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At simultaneous launch events held in both London and New York today, Bebo announced its Open Media vision for social media and entertainment to provide media companies totally free access to its community of some 40 million users. In return, those 40 million members of the social networking community who, one assumes, are mainly there to find and make friends (the clue is in the social networking name after all) get free access to what Bebo refers to as 'thousands of hours of premium entertainment content from some of the world's best known media brands' and what the rest of us might refer to as advertising. OK, perhaps that is a bit unfair, after all the launch partners do include such global media giants as the BBC, BSkyB, CBS, ESPN and MTV but at the end of the day these companies are not here just to give some free content to the kids on Bebo, they are here to stamp their brand impressions upon the impressionable users of the social network. Let's be clear, if you wanted to watch a news clip, a music video or some sports related media for free then you could do so by visiting those media sites on the web, or YouTube or one of the many other places that exist to do just that.

At the launch and in the press release Bebo talks about this ushering in a new and legitimate way for people to 'explore and experience content on the Internet' which sets off the bullcrap alarm somewhat. I am far more willing to accept the rest of that same line in the press release which continues 'and for media owners to promote, distribute and monetize their programming.'

The fact that Bebo allows users to store video content in their personal profiles, and then distribute this virally through their personal friends network within the site, as well as to the wider Bebo community, provides those media companies with unprecedented access to the elusive 13-24 year old target audience. The media companies are not being charged for getting access to the Bebo platform, and are even allowed to distribute their content using their own video players which can carry advertising and importantly retain 100% of the related advertising revenue associated with that. Bebo itself also wins here, getting a massive injection of 'premium brand' content for free while at the same time adding value to its own advertising and brand associations.

According to Joanna Shields, President, Bebo, Open Media represents a significant departure from the focus of other social networks and offers a breakthrough business model for the entertainment industry. "The spectrum of social networking is evolving beyond utilities and applications. Bebo is a 'Social Media Network' where culture and content come together and people use media and entertainment as a means of self-expression. Every media company is looking for better ways to deliver their content online. By opening our platform to media owners, who gain free access to our community while retaining control over their brand, their content and their revenues, we are creating valuable new inventory for advertisers and a new business model for the entire media industry. As of today, Bebo becomes the first social network to open its doors to all media companies, bringing the richness of the media and entertainment world to our fast-growing community of 40 million users."

So what does the user get out of all this? Well sharing of video content using Open Media applies an intelligent content discovery mechanism that matches users with people who share the same entertainment tastes as they do. Additionally, users who choose a media channel, a program or a band as a 'favorite' can automatically receive online and mobile alerts when any new content is made available. Combined with Bebo's already powerful viral recommendation tools, Open Media creates powerful connections between content and the Bebo community. So maybe the user isn't the loser after all, as long as they understand that they are but pawns in a much bigger game of brand chess.

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