Back in May, at a press conference in New York, Yahoo unveiled a revamped version of Flickr that gave users 1 TB of free storage and allowed them to upload full-resolution photos. “The look and feel here is about photos and being unbounded,” Yahoo (YHOO) Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer said at the time. “Photos make the world go round. We want to make Flickr awesome again.”
Early reviews were largely positive. David Pogue (then of the New York Times, now of Yahoo), called the new Flickr a “gigantic improvement” and raved about the “insane, historic, vast amount of space.”
But six months later, awesomeness has proven elusive. According to ComScore data, in May 2013, at the time of Mayer’s press conference, Flickr had 27.3 million multiplatform monthly unique users in the U.S. By September, those numbers had dipped slightly to 26.2 million.
In the meantime, Flickr appears to be losing ground to at least one of its rivals. In September, for the first time in eons, according to ComScore data, photo-sharing Photobucket caught up and narrowly topped Flickr, pulling in 26.4 million users.
Call it a comeback.
Photobucket, which is based in Denver, launched in 2003—one year before Flickr. In 2007, Rupert Murdoch bought the company to add it to News Corp.’s (NWSA) then-growing social media portfolio, which also included Myspace. Things did not go swimmingly. In 2010, Murdoch sold Photobucket to the Seattle-based startup Ontela. The following year, he sold Myspace to a Beverly Hills-based advertising network called Specific Media. Singer and actor Justin Timberlake has an ownership stake in the company.
While Timberlake & Co. continue to struggle to rejuvenate Myspace, Photobucket has managed of late to regain its footing under CEO Tom Munro. In 2011, Photobucket showed signs of progress, announcing it was teaming up in an exclusive deal with Twitter to power photo-sharing on the growing social network. But the partnership sputtered.
Last year, in the wake of the breakup with Twitter, the company overhauled its photo-sharing website—and has been picking up users ever since. As the Denver Business Journal recently noted, Photobucket now has “4 billion photo transactions daily, content published to 3 million websites, ad revenue coming in, [and] an expanding user count.”
In March, the Wall Street Journal reported that Photobucket had raised $5 million to $10 million, which the company expected to be “its final funding round before hitting profitability.”
Having caught up with Flickr, Photobucket still faces an even greater challenger: Instagram. Since launching in 2010, Instagram has largely conquered the world of social photo-sharing, and now leads both Photobucket and Flickr by a large margin. According to ComScore, in September 2013, Instagram pulled in 65 million visitors in the U.S.—roughly 2.5 times more than Flickr or Photobucket.
While Instagram now attracts more users, Photobucket does have a long head start in terms of actually monetizing its audience. Last month, Instagram announced on its blog that it would begin rolling out advertising. Photobucket has been running ads since 2004.
All of which, Photobucket executives believe, distinguishes their service from the rash of new photo-sharing players crowding into the market. “They’ve got a revenue strategy,” Munro told the Denver Business Journal. “We’ve got actual revenue.”