Bebo founder Michael Birch on Myspace sale to Specific Media, Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake, who played former Facebook President Sean Parker in "The Social Network," has a minority stake in Myspace through a deal Specific Media struck to buy the ailing website from News Corp. for $35 million.
And that could be the kind of game-changing move that could rescue Myspace, Bebo founder Michael Birch said in an interview Wednesday.
"They clearly need to do something quite radical," Birch said. "Clearly the new owners have to reinvent it. It can't go head to head with Facebook. They have to create something different."
As a part owner, Timberlake will play a major role in the creative direction of Myspace. The new buyers envision MySpace as a Web destination for original shows as well as videos and music.
"There's a need for a place where fans can go to interact with their favorite entertainers, listen to music, watch videos, share and discover cool stuff and just connect. MySpace has the potential to be that place," Timberlake said in a statement.
Tim Vanderhook, co-founder and CEO of Specific Media, said he pursued Timberlake because he has the star power to reinvigorate Myspace. Timberlake will have an office at Myspace and a staff of six reporting to him.
"Justin is a tremendously bright guy who is really passionate about the opportunity for artists to build a community with fans," Vanderhook said.
Birch, the entrepreneur who competed against Facebook and Myspace, said he thinks Myspace has a "strong but tarnished brand" that could regain its shine.
"Myspace was always a bit edgy. People identified it with edginess and music. It may be able to play to that characteristic. But they have got to do it and execute quite well," he said.
Myspace was never all it could be, Birch said. That's what convinced husband-and-wife team Michael and Xochi Birch to launch a rival social networking service, Bebo. They sold Bebo to AOL in March 2008 for an eye-popping $850 million.
Bebo, which launched in 2005 and gained millions of users, mostly in Europe, was supposed to be a game-changer for AOL, driving traffic to its other Web properties and fueling advertising sales. It didn't work out that way. A new executive team at AOL decided to scrap it instead. In June 2010, AOL sold Bebo to a private equity firm in Los Angeles for less than $10 million.
"The problem with Myspace was always that it was never as strong a product as it needed to be. It left itself vulnerable to competition. It was only a matter of time before someone created something better," Birch said. "Because we didn't think Myspace was as good as it could be is the reason we launched Bebo in the first place. We were self confident that we could create a better social network, a better user experience and a better product than Myspace. We set out to do that. We achieved it, but not to the extent we needed to achieve it."
Who did? Facebook, of course.
-- Jessica Guynn
Photo: Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, right, and Justin Timberlake as Napster co-founder Sean Parker in "The Social Network." Photo credit: Merrick Morton / Columbia TriStar