Social site showing signs of Murdoch's hub-vision

With MySpace starting to lose more of its audience to sites like Facebook, Rupert Murdoch announced plans this summer to turn the social networking site into more of an online hub for entertainment.

What that may look like started to roll out Wednesday, with the introduction of MySpace Music Videos.

Through its partnership with record labels, including EMI Music, Sony Music, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony ATV, the venture intends to offer the largest online collection of musicvids on the Internet, and feature artists profiles and licensed audio tracks.

Interactive tools enable viewers to easily purchase songs or full albums from Apple’s iTunes or Amazon, share the vids with other users or explore music from other artists.

The new offering further expands MySpace Music, which was completely overhauled last year through a partnership with major and indie record labels, and takes advantage of the brief running time of musicvideos — shorter videos have long proved more popular to view online.

But the platform, which builds interactive elements into a new video player, will eventually serve as the foundation for other areas of MySpace, which promote the distribution of films, TV shows and games.

“If it works for music, there’s no reason why it can’t work for other areas,” MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta told Daily Variety. “The products we’re launching are really a springboard for our strategy of where we want to take the company.”

Jon Miller, who took over as chief digital officer of News Corp. in March, quickly began carrying out Murdoch’s new strategy for MySpace, replacing site founder Chris DeWolfe with Van Natta, a former Facebook exec, who soon after led his own executive shuffle, hiring a new chief financial officer and chief technology officer.

MySpace needed to move quickly. It’s been losing the attention of its users, who are going to other sites like Facebook.

While MySpace had 64 million unique users in August, that’s 12 million fewer than it had last year during the same period. After trailing for months, Facebook has moved ahead, with more than 92 million uniques in August in the U.S., and 300 million worldwide.

MySpace hopes content will bring its members back, considering watching videos already is a popular activity, with 45 million people watching 340 million videos on the site in August, according to comScore Video Metrix. The firm reported 161 million people watching vids online in the U.S. during the month, the largest ever recorded. Google’s sites, including YouTube, still dominated, with 121 million viewers checking out 10 billion videos during the same period.

News Corp. owns a major stake in Hulu, whose movies and TV shows also appear on MySpace Video.

Van Natta wanted to take advantage of how consumers are choosing which videos to watch, saying “the socialization of content” is taking place.

“If you look at how people are consuming content, distribution is happening through people instead of portals,” Van Natta said. “People are sharing or engaging with it or experiencing it with other people.”

A recommendation of videos will be programmed by MySpace Music’s staffers, but it will also hype which videos a user’s friends are watching.

MySpace’s full musicvideo catalog will be integrated within iLike, the music discovery service MySpace acquired in August, putting the video player now on all partner websites that feature iLike, including Facebook. Doing so should help promote MySpace’s music service, and also enable the company to increase the ways it can generate revenue through advertising and music sales.

ILike will be part of a music search offering that Google will launch next week, through the support of the major record labels, giving consumers another way to buy downloadable songs. ILike will receive a cut of song sales from people who use Google to search for music; Google will collect revenue from advertising shown in the searches.

In addition to its musicvideo service, MySpace also bowed MySpace Music Artists Dashboard as a tool that enables artists to analyze who their fans are or how they’re listening to their music by tracking song plays, profile views, visitor demographics and other data. Each artist with a MySpace profile will receive free access to the dashboard. The tool is available in 17 languages in more than 20 territories.

“We’re being relentless in improving our user experience,” Van Natta said. “We’re making it easier to use, and fixing things people want to do on the site. This relentless focus is a battle cry, and you’ll see it permeate all areas of our site.”

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