BBC sets sights on youth

Network chief unveils Open Media initiative to press

LONDON — “I feel a bit like Steve Jobs up here,” announced Bebo topper Joanna Shields at last week’s launch of the social networking site’s Open Media initiative.

Wishful thinking? Or does Shields have a point about Bebo’s marriage between new and traditional media that gives users access to free content from global media companies including CBS, MTV and the BBC.

The packed Nov. 13 press conference, staged at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts’ London HQ, a location long associated with old media, was heavy on hype.

But the message was powerful as Shields announced “a breakthrough business model for the entertainment industry.”

Under Open Media, content providers are not charged for access to Bebo. They use their own video players and pocket all related ad coin.

For Bebo, the hope is that having legal clips from, say “Doctor Who,” or “Robin Hood” (both popular BBC shows with young auds) will encourage users to spend longer on the site — making it more attractive to advertisers and sponsors.

To emphasize that it’s in tune with TV’s so-called “lost generation” — the under-24s who are deserting the box for the Web — the launch event concluded with a blistering performance from cult teen keyboard idol Jamie Cullen.

As even youth-skewed webs like MTV lose sleep over how to persuade young auds to stay loyal, Bebo could be onto something.

“The Bebo Open Media platform enables broadcasters to reach the largest online community of 13- to 24-year- olds in the U.K. in a way that protects their content, brand and enables them to monetize the audience and could be viewed as the television equivalent of iTunes,” says Paul Richards, a media analyst at Numis Securities.

Bebo has more in common, Shields told the presser, with a multimedia iPod Touch, hence the parallel between herself and Jobs, the Apple co-founder.

Content owners are keen to have Bebo, set up in 2005 by San Francisco Web entrepreneur Michael Birch and his wife, Xochi, as a weapon in their battle to reach young eyeballs.

Initially broadcasters will use Open Media to promote their fare to this key demographic via short clips, but it may not be long before they see it as an opportunity to preem shows and create a pre-transmission buzz.

“With Open Media, Bebo has enabled broadcasters and producers to take control of how their content is viewed on the Web,” says Peter Cowley, managing director of digital media at Endemol U.K. “With a community of over 40 million people worldwide this becomes a very attractive proposition for anyone wishing to reach a wider audience.”

The Endemol exec has a vested interest. His company is making “Gap Year” for Bebo, its latest online drama.

Shields hopes “Gap Year” will repeat the success of “Kate Modern,” the thriller made for Bebo by the team behind YouTube’s “LonelyGirl 15.”

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