New York Times
June 27, 2007
MySpace, Chasing YouTube, Upgrades Its Offerings
By BRAD STONE
SAN FRANCISCO, June 26 — Two years ago, millions of MySpace users began adding video clips to their profile pages, helping to give rise to YouTube, which Google bought last October for $1.65 billion.
This week, MySpace, a division of the News Corporation, will show that it is serious about challenging YouTube in the booming world of online video.
On Thursday, MySpace plans to rename and refurbish the video-sharing service on its popular social network. The new service, called MySpace TV, will be set up as an independent Web site (www.myspacetv.com) that people can visit to share and watch video, even if they have not signed up for MySpace. The site will also offer some new ways for members of MySpace, which attracts 110 million users a month, to more easily integrate the videos they create and watch into their personal profiles.
The company’s plan underscores its particular emphasis on professional video, as opposed to the homemade depictions of wrestling dogs and cats — the genre known as user-generated content — that are more prominent on most video sites. For example, last week MySpace became the exclusive site for Sony’s “Minisodes”— five-minute versions of ‘80s sitcoms like “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Silver Spoons.” Tens of thousands of users have watched the clips.
With MySpace TV, that professional material will be front and center, said Chris DeWolfe, MySpace’s co-founder and chief executive. “We haven’t really freshened up our video offering since we launched it,” Mr. DeWolfe said. “We wanted to highlight the fact that we have a video destination on the Web with all this great content that we’ve acquired.”
MySpace also wants to strengthen its hand against YouTube. The company says it is cutting into YouTube’s lead. According to the research firm ComScore, MySpace had 50.2 million United States viewers of its videos in April, the last month for which ComScore published data. You-Tube had 57.9 million, only slightly higher, and MySpace grew at a faster rate.
YouTube has said, however, that more than half of its audience is overseas, and ComScore also published data that shows YouTube served up nearly twice as many videos as MySpace in April.
Mr. DeWolfe said he believed that “no one has really pointed out that MySpace has been focused on video and has quietly come within striking distance of YouTube.”
MySpace has another reason for taking on YouTube more directly. Just as MySpace TV is being fashioned to compete with YouTube, engineers at YouTube are busy developing social networking features. On YouTube’s “Test Tube” page, where the company tests products in development, new tools allow YouTube users to chat while they watch the same clip and share their favorite videos.
“I’m not surprised MySpace is promoting video heavily,” said Timothy Tuttle, a vice president at America Online who is responsible for AOL’s video search technology efforts. “YouTube is becoming a social network that is maybe even more powerful than MySpace. So they are rightly focusing on that.”
Asked to comment on MySpace’s plans, a YouTube spokesman, Ricardo Reyes, said: “We are focused on continuing to provide a global platform for our community to express themselves, share experiences, and inspire one another.”
MySpace first entered the Web video market in January 2006, after it noticed its members adding videos from YouTube to their pages. The original service still appears rudimentary.
Though MySpace has became the second most popular video-sharing site on the Web, even its own executives agree that the site is lacking.
“When you go to MySpace video now, what you see is far less appealing to the eye than what you get from other video sites,” said Jeff Berman, a MySpace executive who took over the video effort in March.
MySpace TV is meant to change that. The service will be immediately available in 15 countries and 7 languages, much like YouTube’s own foray into nine countries announced this month. It adds features like categories — groupings like animals and politics where similar topics can be collected for easier navigating — which YouTube has had nearly since its inception.
MySpace TV is also meant to more closely tie video into the social network. Each MySpace member page will link to a separate MySpace TV channel, which will display the videos the user has uploaded. Users can change the design of those pages, adding the same flourishes they use to personalize their profiles.
Later this year, MySpace also plans to let users edit and combine videos on MySpace TV into new clips. MySpace acquired the technology for this in May when it bought a start-up called Flektor.
But MySpace also wants MySpace TV to show off content like the Minisodes or television shows and movies from NBC Universal and Fox, which is part of News Corporation. The two studios are working on a joint Internet video effort, and will distribute their programs on the video sites of MySpace, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL.
Short ads will appear before clips on the site. Josh Felser, chief executive of the video-sharing site Grouper, which was bought last fall by Sony, said advertisers clearly preferred such professional content over less predictable user-submitted material.
“Most of the video content today is unsellable,” Mr. Felser said. “We are all in this industry looking at generating inventory that is higher quality.”
MySpace expects that part of the appeal of MySpace TV to studios and professional videomakers will be its aggressiveness in protecting intellectual property. The company was among the first major video sites to use filtering software, which checks uploaded videos to determine if they are protected by copyright. YouTube has also embraced filters, but it is fighting a lawsuit brought by Viacom over past infringement.
“We are sensitive to that issue because we are part of a bigger content company, and protecting intellectual property is part of our bigger business,” Mr. DeWolfe said.
But whether that will help lure more must-see videos to MySpace TV is another matter. Michael D. Eisner, the former Disney chairman turned Internet entrepreneur, produced a popular series of Web shows this spring called “Prom Queen” and let MySpace post them for 12 hours before he gave them to other sites.
Mr. Eisner, speaking of MySpace, said, “It makes me feel good that there is a multigenerational history in that organization of honoring and respecting professionally produced content.”
Mr. Eisner is creating a sequel and another comedy series, “The All for Nots.” He said he would not necessarily give the exclusive rights to MySpace TV or even YouTube.
“Everyone is rethinking how they are going to work in content,” he said. “Down the road, content will help to define all these platforms.”