Variety has been published since December 16, 1905, when it was launched by Sime Silverman as a weekly periodical covering theater and vaudeville with its headquarters in New York City.
Sime was fired by The Morning Telegraph in 1905 for panning an act which had taken out an advert for $50, and said that it looked like he would have to start his own paper in order to be able to tell the truth. With a loan of $1,500 from his father-in-law, he launched Variety as publisher and editor.
In addition to Sime's former employer The Morning Telegraph, other major competitors on launch were The New York Clipper and the New York Dramatic Mirror.
The original cover design, which is very similar to the current design, was sketched by Edgar M. Miller, a scenic painter, who refused payment.
The front cover contained pictures of the original editorial staff, who were Alfred Greason, Epes W Sargeant (Chicot or Chic) and Joshua Lowe, as well as Sime.
The first issue contained a review by Sime's son Sidne, also known as Skigie (based on the childish lisping of his name) who was claimed to be the youngest critic in the world at seven years old.
In 1922, Sime acquired The New York Clipper which had been reporting on the stage and other entertainment since 1853 and folded it two years later, merging some of its features into Variety.
Also in 1922, Sime launched the Times Square Daily, which he referred to as "the world's worst daily" and soon scrapped. During that period, Variety staffers worked on all three papers.
After the launch of The Hollywood Reporter in 1930, which Variety sued for alleged plagiarism in 1932, Sime launched Daily Variety in 1933, based in Hollywood, with Arthur Ungar as the editor. It replaced Variety Bulletin that was issued in Hollywood on Fridays. Daily Variety was initially published every day other than Sunday but mostly on Monday to Friday. Ungar was editor until 1950, followed by Joe Schoenfeld (1950-1959) and then Thomas M. Pryor (1959-1988), who was succeeded by his son Pete. The Daily and the Weekly were initially run as virtually independent newspapers, with the Daily concentrating mostly on Hollywood news and the Weekly on U.S. and International coverage.
Sime Silverman had passed on the editorship of the Weekly Variety to Abel Green as his replacement in 1931; he remained as publisher until his death in 1933 soon after launching Daily Variety. Green remained as editor from 1931 until his death in 1973.
Sime's son Sidne succeeded him as publisher of both publications. Following his death from tuberculosis in 1950, his only son Syd Silverman, was the sole heir to what was then Variety Inc. Young Syd's legal guardian Harold Erichs oversaw Variety Inc. until 1956. After that date Syd Silverman
managed the company as publisher of both the Weekly Variety in New York and the Daily Variety in Hollywood, until the sale of both papers in 1987 to Cahners Publishing for $64 million. He remained as publisher until 1990 when he was succeeded on Weekly Variety by Gerard A. Byrne and on Daily Variety by Sime's great grandson, Michael Silverman. Syd became chairman of both publications.
In 1953, Army Archerd's "Just for Variety" column appeared on page two of Daily Variety and swiftly became popular in Hollywood. Archerd broke countless exclusive stories, reporting from film sets, announcing pending deals, giving news of star-related hospitalizations, marriages, and births. The column appeared daily for 52 years until September 1, 2005.
On December 7, 1988, the editor, Roger Watkins, proposed and oversaw the transition to four-color print. Upon its launch, the new-look Variety measured one inch shorter with a washed-out color on the front. The old front-page box advertisement was replaced by a strip advertisement, along with the first photos published in Variety since Sime gave up using them in the old format in 1920: they depicted Sime, Abel and Syd.
For twenty years from 1989 its editor-in-chief was Peter Bart, originally only of the weekly New York edition, with Michael Silverman (Syd's son) running the Daily in Hollywood. Bart had worked previously at Paramount Pictures and The New York Times. In April 2009, Bart moved to the position of "vice president and editorial director", characterized online as "Boffo No More: Bart Up and Out at Variety". From mid 2009 to 2013, Timothy M. Gray oversaw the publication as Editor-in-Chief, after over 30 years of various reporter and editor positions in the newsroom.
In October 2012, Reed Business Information, the periodical's owner, (formerly known as Reed-Elsevier, which had been parent to Cahner's Corp. in the United States) sold the publication to Penske Media Corporation. PMC is the owner of Deadline Hollywood, which since the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike has been considered Variety's largest competitor in online showbiz news. In October 2012, Jay Penske, Chairman and CEO of PMC, announced that the website's paywall would come down, the print publication would stay, and he would invest more into Variety's digital platform in a townhall.
In March 2013, Variety owner Jay Penske appointed three co-editors to oversee different parts of the publication's industry coverage; Claudia Eller as Editor, Film; Cynthia Littleton as Editor, TV, and Andrew Wallenstein as Editor, Digital.
The decision was also made to stop printing Daily Variety with the last printed edition published on March 19, 2013 with the headline "Variety Ankles Daily Pub Hubbub".
In October 2014, Eller and Wallenstein were upped to Co-Editors in Chief, with Littleton continuing to oversee the trade's television coverage. In June 2014, Penske Media Corporation (PMC) entered into an agreement with Reuters to syndicate news from Variety and Variety Latino-Powered by Univision to distribute leading entertainment news to the international news agency's global readership. This dissemination comes in the form of columns, news stories, images, video, and data-focused products. In July 2015, Variety was awarded a Los Angeles Area Emmy Award by the Television Academy in the Best Entertainment Program category for Variety Studio: Actors on Actors, a series of one-hour specials that take viewers inside Hollywood films and television programs through conversations with acclaimed actors.
A significant portion of the publication's advertising revenue comes during the film-award season leading up to the Academy Awards. During this "Awards Season", large numbers of colorful, full-page "For Your Consideration" advertisements inflate the size of Variety to double or triple its usual page count. These advertisements are the studios' attempt to reach other Hollywood professionals who will be voting on the many awards given out in the early part of the year, including the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes and various guild award honors.