The Viacom entertainment company yesterday said it plans to acquire the remainder of its stake in Social Project, its partner in developing Flux, a social-networking platform it began to work with in September 2007.
1,000-plus web publishers
The current Flux network includes more than 1,000 web publishers, including 35 of MTVN's sites (MTV.com, ComedyCentral.com and Spike.com among them), with 7.5 million registered users. Mika Salmi, president-global digital media, described Flux as MTVN's "vertical-entertainment strategy," or a more media-based approach to social networking using MySpace- and Facebook-like sharing and content-rating tools.
In a press conference yesterday, Mr. Salmi and Joshua Dern, MTVN's new senior VP-general manager of social media, described how the system works through the experience of two Flux users, NY Girl and Co-Bert, who frequent two different MTVN sites, MTV.com and the recently launched ColbertNation.com, respectively. After registering under the Flux platform, NY Girl could share a Danity Kane music video she liked on MTV.com with Co-Bert, who could then access the video from ColbertNation.com without leaving the site.
Flux is designed to welcome content from any and all sites and to make it accessible to users from any of the 1,000-plus publishers within the network. Mr. Dern said his team is currently working on developing applications specific to Facebook and MySpace that would allow those users to add the Flux platform to their profile.
Mr. Dern said Flux is not intended to be competitive to MySpace and Facebook but rather "cooperative. It's a very media-specific layer on top of all those experiences."
Like a vertical ad network
But Flux is also taking a complicated route to courting advertisers, using a sales model similar to a vertical ad network. So advertisers looking to reach fans of "The Hills" could behaviorally target them across MTV.com, "Hills" fan sites and the "Hills" virtual world using display ads. Mr. Salmi said a more specific, demographically based targeting model is currently being developed with respect to privacy concerns that plagued similar platforms like Facebook's Beacon.
Although Flux includes a wide base of sites, MTV.com is an anchor of sorts, accounting for more than 600,000 of its 7 million user base. More than 250,000 of those users signed up in the past month alone, in order to nominate artists in each of the award categories for this year's Video Music Awards.
But even if all 7 million of Flux's registered users were active, MTV Networks would still have a long way to catch up to the 40.9 million unique users who visited Facebook in August, not to mention the 89.2 million who went to MySpace last month.
Mr. Salmi said MTV sites tend to fare better under the time-spent metric; the MTVN Music Group finished first-quarter 2008 with 315 million minutes across its suite of sites, more than three times the total of MySpace Music and nearly 32% more than Yahoo Music. Monthly unique visits to those same sites were up 18.7%, while MySpace Music fell 8%. However, because of advertisers' preference to buy based on the size of an online audience rather than their time spent on a specific site, Flux users will likely be targeted on more of an engagement basis, at least at first.
Engaged with your ad
"Advertisers would rather have 10 users with the same ad than one user clicking on 10 different ads," Mr. Salmi said.
"We can tell advertisers we know people like this and they're watching this TV show, so here's where you can find teen audiences online, or more politically minded fans of the 'Daily Show' or Stephen Colbert."