Look Out, YouTube: Here Comes Bebo

CBS, MTV Set Up Channels on Social Net -- and Keep All the Resulting Ad Revenue

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Bebo today unveiled its new vision for social networking -- and it looks a lot like an aggregated media destination. The venture, coined Open Media, is a platform of channels offering free content from major broadcasters as well as emerging media companies.

Open Media was launched at simultaneous press conferences in New York and London. The extravagant London affair was attended by a couple hundred journalists and media watchers and featured live performances from jazz keyboard performer Jamie Cullum and up-and-coming singer-guitarist Remi Nicole.

Control the environment
Turner, CBS, MTV, BBC, Sky and a host of other broadcasters are creating individual channels using their own media players, which means they can retain control of the environment, the content and of their brands. Broadcasters will keep 100% of the revenues from advertising shown on their channels.

"This is about making Bebo more interesting and engaging and about the self-expression of our users," Joanna Shields, president of Bebo, said at the London launch.

The move makes Bebo more of an entertainment portal and differentiates it from rivals such as Facebook, which is viewed mainly as a communication forum. While MySpace is also more entertainment centric, it is known mostly for its strong music community. (Bebo has not yet signed up any record labels to Open Media, but Ms. Shields said bulking up the site's music offering is a matter of "when, not if.")

"The spectrum of social networking is evolving beyond utilities and applications," Ms. Shields said. "Bebo is a 'social media network' where culture and content come together and people use media and entertainment as a form of self-expression."

40 million users
Any media company can create a channel on Open Media through a "self-service" system and create the potential to expose free content to Bebo's 40 million users worldwide. If a company is not set up with its own online ad-sales or player technology, Bebo will step in with its own offering.

Bebo users can add video content to their own "personal video profile." Bebo claims this will create a turbo-driven word-of-mouth element that makes YouTube look like it's just scratching at the surface.

"This is not just another deal," said Casey Harwood, senior VP-digital media at Turner Europe. "Bebo is more of a community or a magazine and we are creating a new channel in its own right that will require its own channel manager."

Richard Cohen, commercial director of Premium TV, lauded the distributed nature of Bebo's entertainment offering. "The idea of trying to drive people to your own site is now defunct," he said. "You have to recognize where people are and want to be and capture their attention there, not dictate where they should be. Plus, this gives us the ability to monetize -- it's a natural extension to syndication."

Asked whether Bebo's audience would feel invaded by big brands and advertisers, Ms. Shields pointed out that you have to hit "explore" on the home page and then enter the "discovery" section to view Open Media content. "It's not forced on you; it's something you can discover at your own leisure," she said.

'We will tread carefully'
Said Turner's Mr. Harwood: "You can't antagonize the user because it's all about retention. We will have frequency capping and make sure that ads are relevant. We will tread carefully and won't change the environment."

One of the Open Media features Bebo touted is a content-discovery mechanism that matches users with people who share the same entertainment tastes. Users who choose a channel, program or band as a favorite can automatically receive online and mobile alerts when any new content is made available.

Bebo is the third-largest social networking site in the U.S. and the largest one in the U.K. It was founded in 2005 and claims its core of 16- to 24-year-olds spends 35.7 million collective hours on the site per month.
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