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MySpace aims for big bucks with site redesign

June 18, 2008 |  9:27 am
MySpace redesigned its home page

For years MySpace seemed to draw its Web-design inspiration from Jackson Pollock's splatter-it-all-over-the-canvas style. But today the social networking site took on a more refined look that more closely resembles that of rival Facebook.

The redesigned homepage (pictured above), where millions of people come every day to log in, displays a more modular appearance that makes it easier for users to find the most sought-after features, such as the latest videos, music and news.

MySpace also overhauled the look of its content channel pages such as karaoke (pictured below), music and games, and it created new themes for users to select from when customizing their profile pages. It also dramatically changed site navigation and search.

MySpace KaraokeThe goal is to create a more inviting, almost portal-like experience to attract mainstream advertising. The new MySpace.com debuts with a giant, site-enveloping ad from Warner Bros. to promote its forthcoming Batman film sequel, “The Dark Knight.”

“One really interesting trend that we’re seeing in the advertising community, they’re no longer thinking of us as a niche social media site,” said Chris DeWolfe, MySpace chief executive and co-founder. “If someone wants to take one of their brands ... and get massive reach, we’ve got over 40 million people coming to the site on a daily basis, and 74 million on a monthly basis. That’s bigger than the largest television shows out there.”

And MySpace would certainly welcome the kind of cash that advertisers lavish on its corporate sibling within News Corp., Fox television’s “American Idol.”

It’s no secret that Fox Interactive Media, the corporate division that includes MySpace, will miss its revenue target of $1 billion for this year. So MySpace can hardly be criticized for slapping on a fresh coat of paint for the advertisers, who like clean, well-lighted environments with lots of white space.

“One of the criticisms of the site is it’s a cluttered experience,” said Debra Aho Williamson, a senior analyst with online market researcher eMarketer. “So anything that can refine that and make the
advertising stand out is going to appeal to advertisers.”

MySpace is one of the Web’s top destinations, attracting ... 

... an audience of about 74 million monthly visitors in the United States, according to comScore Media Metrix. It’s hardly a stretch for it to try to grab a share of the nearly $14.8 billion that eMarketer estimates U.S. advertisers will spend this year with the major portals, rather than limit its ambitions to the $1.4 billion that advertisers allocate for “experimental” spending on social networks.

But not every ad buyer is bowled over by MySpace’s new positioning.

“It does seem a bit like rearranging the deck chairs to me, not necessarily on the Titanic,” said Rob Norman, chief executive of advertising buyer GroupM Interaction Worldwide. “I don’t see how this is game-changing.”

Norman said MySpace’s challenge was not figuring out how to “gussy up” the site so it’s attractive to traditional advertisers, but rather, to extract value from the networks that connect people who use MySpace.

“If your whole shtick is that you’re networking and connecting people, the premium value of your advertising is likely to derive from the networking of people,” Norman said. “That would be my feeling.”

To be fair, no social network has cracked that nut. And MySpace has undertaken new initiatives, such as hyper-targeted advertising, which DeWolfe says show promise. Chevrolet already has used that method to display ads to snowboarders on MySpace. Another ad project in trials focuses on small businesses, allowing, say, a dry cleaner to issue coupons to every soccer mom in a 5-mile radius.

But why wait for these techniques to catch hold?

"We're trying to broaden our revenue streams," DeWolfe said. "Setting up our MySpace.com page in a way that is easy for the biggest brand advertisers to do buys. ... It's something that’s been strategically really important for us."

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

MySpace screen shots courtesy of MySpace

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