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Using MySpace To Get the Message

Last summer, Rick Haskins, executive VP of marketing and brand strategy for The CW, was looking to generate fast, mass awareness for the fledgling network. He realized that the heavily trafficked had buzz worth tapping into—a notion that led to a deal giving The CW near blanket coverage of the MySpace home page for its September launch as part of an effort to build appeal among teens.

The CW became the first network to take advantage of MySpace's “homepage-takeover” option under which wall-to-wall banner ads serve as entry points to click through to a branded profile page.

In The CW's case, the destination featured video streams and a band competition where the winner's music would appear on sci-fi series Supernatural. It also included social-networking functions—from discussion groups to the chance to become a “friend” and link with the page—that have made MySpace a central point for teens and a viral-marketing boomtown.

“It's a hub where our target audience goes,” says Haskins. “I can get a lot of people in one fell swoop in an environment that they love.”

The coverage has helped make MySpace a one-stop shop for networks hoping to reach this demographic.

Although The CW got off to a rocky start, America's Next Top Model, the subject of heavy MySpace promotion, saw its season-premiere ratings increase 36% among teens compared with its 2005 season debut. Haskins was satisfied enough to “take over” the home page in January for the launch of Beauty and the Geek.

The CW is one among a slew of programmers lured in by the site's staggering numbers. MySpace had 61.5 million unique visitors in January, according to comScore Media Metrix; in February, that number swelled to 64.4 million. With about 5 million of those users in the 12-17 demo—MySpace puts the average per-visit time for a teenage girl at 30 minutes—networks from ABC Family to NBC have hooked their sails to the site.

“It's about getting people more involved with the content,” says Shelby Saville, senior VP at agency StarLink. “MySpace allows characters to come to life in a way that wasn't possible before.”

MySpace owner News Corp., whose Fox network has used the site to stream full episodes of hit shows, is drawing up plans that could make it even more attractive to marketers. The company plans to launch a service where users could “host” streams of shows on their home pages, perhaps propelling a rapid chain of viewer endorsements. Another opportunity could come this summer, when NBC Universal and News Corp. launch their site, with MySpace serving as a distribution outlet for reams of TV and video.

“We've just scratched the surface in the TV category,” says Shari Friedman, VP of sales for MySpace operator Fox Interactive Media. Other paid-media options include “roadblocks” in the music or film channels, as well as “custom communities,” a profile page similar to what The CW used.

Fox Interactive Media head Peter Levinsohn said recently that the company can charge anywhere from the low six figures to upwards of $1 million for the communities. And Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen says video advertising “could be a meaningful driver” with the $40-$60 per-thousand-viewers premium that online video ads can command.

Networks Gearing Up

ABC Family has also used the site to help launch shows by setting up dedicated pages for its portfolio of original series. Most recently, it offered a link to view the premiere episode of drama Lincoln Heights before its January launch.

NBC, which has used a homepage takeover twice in support of Heroes, allows users to embed a promo clip in their pages and download instant-messenger icons for a slew of characters.

Still, not all networks with a teen target are rushing to ink deals.

The N uses extensive online marketing but prefers more-niche sites. “The teen audience is there, but so is everybody else trying to market to teens,” says Sarah Tomassi Lindman, senior VP/general manager of the network. “It's a cluttered space, and it's very hard for your message to get through.”

Perhaps, but given MySpace's success rate and the wealth of user data it maintains, plenty of other networks are seeing a clear message.