Social network readies video site

MySpace is taking its most serious shot at Google-YouTube, launching MySpace TV, a video site it hopes will lure not just amateur videos but content from nets and studios.

But as it continues on its course as the most ambitious conglom in the online video realm, News Corp. must tiptoe through a gauntlet of concerns — from negotiations with nets reluctant to partner with a competitor, to the piracy questions that have plagued YouTube.

And MySpace TV has a major branding challenge: MySpace. The social network behemoth is still known to most consumers as a place for personal Web pages, not as a repository for the latest clips from “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”

On Wednesday, the News Corp. subsid announced the full agenda for MySpace TV. It’s an aggressive plan — the site will offer many video bells and whistles on MySpace pages, more promotion for top-ranked videos (a feature with which YouTube has found particular success) and, most important, a plan to court other studios and nets for originals.

Rather than go the simpler route and allow MySpace TV to be a venue for amateur video while News Corp.’s nascent Internet vid venture with NBC Universal carries the pro content, MySpace wants to do both.

“We’re big believers in the full continuum of the content curve,” said MySpace TV chief Jeff Berman. “We want this to work just as well for the soccer mom, the aspiring Steven Spielberg and Fox and NBC.”

(The NBC U venture is in fact being run separately, but MySpace TV could include content negotiated as part of those deals, execs said, which would mean that in some respects the two sites will be competing against each other.)

The decision to pursue both amateur and pro video highlights the dilemma faced by online vidsites.

The quick way to build traffic — which all advertisers want to see — is to offer slick user-generated tools. But to attract ad dollars, a site needs pro content. And pro content is not easy to land.

Right now, the offerings on MySpace TV are modest, perhaps in part because producers and nets that have worked with the site have said negotiations have been conducted differently than with traditional media companies.

The biggest deals are for content from smaller players like National Geographic and for condensed versions of library shows like “Diff’rent Strokes,” as well as a smattering of originals, such as the Michael Eisner series “Prom Queen.”

“MySpace thinks having professional video front and center will help it beat YouTube,” said new-media consultant Frank Voci of Voci Media Works. “But I question whether five minutes of ‘Diff’rent Strokes’ is more popular than video like (YouTube staple) Lonelygirl.”

MySpace execs, however, say it could be only a matter of weeks before other net and studio deals are announced.

The company also will continue to use the site as a main online platform for Fox content; “Family Guy” and “Borat” content, for instance, has previously had a prime place on MySpace.

For all the obstacles it must overcome, News Corp. has plenty of incentive to launch MySpace TV, which tries to achieve two goals simultaneously: Service will become a separate branded site and URL, which execs hope can attract non-MySpace users and siphon off traffic from YouTube. At the same time, MySpace TV will integrate video more fully into the main site, strengthening the site’s hold, execs hope, on the young demo that uses the site for personal pages — a business that’s been increasingly cannibalized by Facebook over the past few months.

Among the enhancements being offered is users’ ability to post video to their pages with one click and to create video channels on their site — embellishments Facebook doesn’t offer.

With the move, News Corp. is marking out very different territory than another leading Google competitor, Viacom.

While Viacom is building its own online empire with the acquisitions of sites like Atomfilm and Xfire, it has refrained from undertaking major online video initiatives. A billion-dollar lawsuit against YouTube, in fact, could still end with a licensing deal between the companies.

News Corp., on the other hand, wants to build and own a network that can distribute its content and the content of others, rendering outside partners unnecessary.

MySpace does appear to be closing the gap on YouTube in at least one respect: In April, the site’s video views were at 50 million, only slightly behind YouTube’s 58 million, with the number of MySpace video users rising by 50% since February.

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