Six years ago MySpace appeared to have the world at its feet. Fresh from an acquisition by Murdoch’s News Corp that valued the site at US$580 million it felt like a pioneering force online, a revolutionary site that enabled young individuals to connect and express themselves. Social Media may not have been new as such, but MySpace certainly brought it to the attention of the American mainstream.
At least until Facebook redefined social media for that mainstream. The cleaner look of the site and its then innovative social news feed lead to many abandoning MySpace altogether.
MySpace has since become primarily known for music – a place to engage with your favourite bands and discover new ones, many artists are claimed to have been discovered there. It is from that heartland that the site’s new owners, digital display network Specific Media (who reportedly paid just US$35 million for the site), have taken their cue for the new vision.
At an event in London earlier this week Specific Media took a selection of partners and agencies (including bigmouthmedia) through the changes. And they certainly didn’t plan on boring anyone – after briefly making light of those that questioned the logic of the acquisition the presentation lasted no longer than twenty minutes. It also saw them announce two headline features: MySpace Radio and a(nother) new look and feel for the site.
The radio offering works as you would expect – listen to a band on MySpace and you can click a button to turn the site into a tailored radio station, offering up a selection of similar bands to the one being originally being viewed. Don’t like a track? Just skip it. So far, so Pandora, so Last.fm. The point of difference? Scale – MySpace claim a reach of music consumers greater than even Apple’s iTunes (although I was unable to clarify exactly where the figures came from, what they represent or if they are like for like).
The site’s redesign retains the freedom MySpace is known for but makes it feel contemporary (arguably for the first time ever). The focus is on large customisable imagery and video. Specific Media vocalised this as being about self-expression and self-promotion. If Facebook is where you go to express what you just did and Twitter what you are doing right now then MySpace is about what you want to do and what you aim to become. It’s about ambition and fame in other words.
So is this enough? Specific Media were quick to point out that, internationally, MySpace has grown over the past few months (although their Keynote presentation was honest enough to show a decline in US traffic). But is the decline in US traffic an anomaly or a sign of market maturity? MySpace’s position as a music portal is already under significant pressure, both from Pandora and Spotify in the music consumption space and Soundcloud for breakthrough artist discovery.
The design does feel like a breath of fresh air however – a much needed rebirth and the chance for a new start. Radio on its own doesn’t feel like a significant threat to Pandora or Spotify but it is in keeping with the site’s reputation as a place to discover. Layering this functionality with additional content (e.g. video and exclusive celebrity access) and making the radio accessible via mobile devices would increase appeal.
The real unknown though is monetization. Let’s not forget Specific Media are a display network. They discussed the ability for brands to create their own identities on the platform and maybe this will be charged for (though there was no comment on this at the event). The only reference to advertising was that they will be selling video advertising within the new radio platform – there was no mention of traditional display and certainly no inclusion of standard ad placements within the new site visuals shown off.
Specific Media have been championing video advertising for some time. Could this be the beginning of the end for their traditional display business? It feels like a big step but would certainly help them differentiate Specific Media’s offering from the increasingly commoditised realm of the display network. We might just have to watch their space.