Viacom Planning to Take on MySpace.com

Viacom is planning to get into the social networking game, the company announced this week, with CEO Tom Freston telling attendees at an industry event in New York that the company has designs on a portal of its own to compete with the likes of News Corp.-owned MySpace.com, the personal Web page service that has become wildly popular among Internet users, especially teens.

Viacom did not lay out exactly how it would replicate its rival’s success with MySpace.com, which News Corp. purchased last year for almost US$600 million, but the company did make clear its intention to create its own corner of the Internet where teens and hobbyitsts could hang out and share information.

The company has reportedly met with a number of Internet social networking businesses, but so far it has released no details as to whether it will enter the market via partnerships or acquisitions.

Teen Sensation

Viacom is the latest media behemoth to be intrigued by the success of the online social networking phenomenon and sees in it a new opportunity to build relationships with young consumers.

“On the plus side with Viacom, they own MTV and VH1, and I would expect the co-marketing opportunities to be incredible,” Basex CEO and Chief Analyst Jonathan Spira told TechNewsWorld. “It certainly makes sense from that standpoint to do it.”

Spira pointed out that MySpace.com’s musical content and music-related features have proven popular and suggests an outlet of this type would be an ideal fit for media companies like Viacom, which own a good deal of content.

Big Company Curse

However, Spira noted that one challenge Viacom might face includes overcoming a tendency by many large media companies to upset the grassroots, community, and organic networking properties many social networking sites possess in their successful, developmental stages.

“Generally, when large companies are trying to duplicate something that was more of a garage works development, it somehow lacks that skunkworks flavor and ends up too mixed in corporate policy to be too successful,” he said.

On the other hand, Spira said, since users have much invested in their Web pages, they may be unlikely to leave the social networks they belong to simply because of new corporate ownership.

Corporate Uncool

Nevertheless, there is the age-old challenge of convincing teens and others that corporate ownership and oversight is not too square, Gartner analyst Michael King told TechNewsWorld.

“Big media companies have lots of money and content, but they have no way to tap into a good base of users,” King said.

The analyst equated Viacom’s aspirations for the community networks with the quest for eyeballs seen during the dot-com era.

He also noted that big-company ownership could have implications in terms of how legal questions are handled, referring to some of the dangers posed to young users who become involved with stalkers and potential abusers via their online connections.

While the small operations may have little appeal for legal action related to a social network, the deep pockets of a News Corp. or Viacom make them more of a target.

“That could also mean a change in policies, which also impacts coolness,” King said.

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