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MySpace alters appearance to attract more ads

The social-networking site, previously seen as cluttered, now has a more refined look similar to Facebook.

June 19, 2008|Dawn C. Chmielewski | Times Staff Writer

For years MySpace seemed to draw its Web-design inspiration from Jackson Pollock's splatter-it-all-over-the-canvas style.

But on Wednesday, the social-networking site took on a more refined look that more closely resembles that of rival Facebook.

The redesigned MySpace home page, where millions of people come every day to log in, displays a more modular appearance that makes it easier for users to find the most sought-after features, such as videos, music and news.

The goal is to create a more inviting, almost portal-like experience to attract mainstream advertising. The new MySpace.com debuted with a giant site-enveloping ad for Warner Bros.' forthcoming Batman film sequel, "The Dark Knight."

"The advertising community, they're no longer thinking of us as a niche social media site," said Chris DeWolfe, MySpace's chief executive and co-founder. "We've got over 40 million people coming to the site on a daily basis, and 74 million on a monthly basis. That's bigger than the largest television shows out there."

MySpace would certainly welcome the kind of cash that advertisers lavish on "American Idol" and other programs from Fox Broadcasting, its News Corp. sibling.

Fox Interactive Media, the corporate division that includes MySpace, warned in April that it would miss its fiscal 2008 revenue target of $1 billion. So MySpace can hardly be criticized for slapping on a fresh coat of paint for the advertisers, who like clean, well-lighted environments.

"One of the criticisms of the site is it's a cluttered experience," said Debra Aho Williamson, a senior analyst with online market researcher EMarketer Inc. "So anything that can refine that and make the advertising stand out is going to appeal to advertisers."

MySpace is one of the Web's top destinations, attracting 73.7 million monthly visitors in the U.S., according to ComScore Media Metrix. It's hardly a stretch for it to try to grab a share of the nearly $14.8 billion that EMarketer estimates U.S. advertisers will spend this year with the major portals, rather than limit its ambitions to the $1.4 billion they allocate for "experimental" spending on social networks.

In a sense, it's back to the future for MySpace. The site took off a few years ago by focusing on user-created profile pages, rather than trying to encourage visitors to start at a home page as Yahoo Inc., AOL and other Internet portals did.

"They really are re-imagining what a portal is," Williamson said of MySpace. "It's funny, because a few years ago they talked about themselves being a next-generation portal, then they stopped talking about that, now they're talking about it again."

Not every ad buyer is bowled over by MySpace's new strategy.

"It does seem a bit like rearranging the deck chairs to me, not necessarily on the Titanic," said Rob Norman, CEO of advertising buyer GroupM Interaction Worldwide. "I don't see how this is game-changing."

Norman said MySpace's challenge was not figuring out how to "gussy up" the site so it's attractive to traditional advertisers, but rather to extract value from the networks that connect people who use MySpace.

"If your whole shtick is that you're networking and connecting people, the premium value of your advertising is likely to derive from the networking of people," Norman said.

No social network has cracked that nut. And MySpace has undertaken new initiatives, such as hyper-targeted advertising, which DeWolfe says show promise. Chevrolet already has used that method to display ads to snowboarders on MySpace. Another ad project in trials focuses on small businesses -- allowing, say, a dry cleaner to issue coupons to every soccer mom within a five-mile radius.

But MySpace said it wasn't relying solely on those techniques to make its site more advertiser-friendly, which is why it has revamped the home page.

"We're trying to broaden our revenue streams," DeWolfe said.

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dawn.chmielewski@latimes.com

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