Tuesday, July 19, 2005

MySpace is now Fox's space


How much is America's largest online convergence of youth culture worth? To Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp., (parent company of the Fox media empire) the figure is around $580 million. MySpace's parent company, Intermix, will acquire the remaining shares of MySpace that they didn't own. Then News Corp. makes its purchase, and now MySpace will be part of Fox Interactive Media.

All the press I've seen on the deal focuses on MySpace's #6 ranking in internet traffic polls, 200,000 registered bands and over 16 million registered users. And while the reports have mentioned that Murdoch's decision to purchase was to "appeal to young people who are watching less television and reading fewer newspapers," the mainstream media is missing the massive ramifications of this half-billion dollar deal.

This acquisition is about much more than money and site traffic. MySpace is the first widely successful online social network, rocketing past Friendster and Ryze with a four-digit growth percentage. All this in spite of the fact that MySpace does no marketing or advertising and creates none of its own content.

Many people are under the illusion that clicking on animated graphics and filling out online polls constitutes interactive media. But truly interactive media is not one-sided, it is based on the interaction between two entities, ultimately two people. And that's why MySpace is important as a forerunner of interactive online communities. The content consists of the interactions between the various registered users. The comments, pictures and lists of favorite movies are simply metadata for each individual person.

Marshal McLuhan's famous phrase, "the medium is the message" is modified by the emergence of social networking communities. Now, "the individual is the medium and the message".

It has been suggested that the deal will be a rip-off for Fox unless MySpace's CEO Chris DeWolfe and president Tom Anderson can use their social networking knowhow to recussitate the withered tentactles of Fox Interactive Media (specifically their News, Entertainment and Sports identities). Though I find this idea hard to fathom, it does gives way to the larger question of whether a dinosaur media company understands what they're doing with a two-year old internet phenomenon. Napster comes to mind.

Honestly, I could give a crap if Fox makes half a billion or loses it all. New methods of social networking will develop, possibly alongside MySpace and possibly independent of it. I'm more concerned about Fox having detailed personal profiles on millions of consumers. The main content of MySpace is essentially a database of detailed consumer autobiographies. Fox now knows about everything we watch, see, hear and create. In this way, MySpace is like a focus group in front of a two-way mirror. Users are bearing their souls to their peers, generally unaware that there are is a corporation monitoring their conversation.

Media conglomerates have historically made their money by manufacturing content and distributing it in a top-down model to consumers. In interactive media and social networking, however, the audience does its own content creation and marketing. All the media conglomerate has to do is sit back and collect the advertising revenue. The corporation need only to drop products into the network and watch as the youth market reacts with their MySpace accounts and their wallets.

This is not to say that MySpace will necessarily go to hell; the extra revenue will certainly help improve the system as long as corporate bureaucracy is kept at bay. It ain't broke and they'd be fools to try and fix it. We can look forward to new opportunities in expression and communication, but it is utlimately the audience that generates the content, and the audience will decide for itself where to do its social networking. Online, the audience is always one step ahead of the industry. Fox can change MySpace, but they can't change the audience. And the audience is MySpace.

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