SBJ/20081117/SBJ In-Depth

Networks seek ways to interact with viewers

With viewers spending more time on social-networking sites, dozens of TV networks, magazines and Web video programmers are creating pages on Facebook, MySpace and other sites in a bid to attract fans.

ESPN has pursued a strategy of driving social networking and interaction on its own Web site in addition to supplying applications to Facebook, MySpace and other social networks.

ESPN.com features 5,000 social-networking widgets that subscribers can install on outside social-networking sites. The applications allow users to track updated scores from any sport, and read columns from ESPN writers.

Ed Davis, ESPN Digital Media vice president, said a key component of ESPN’s social-networking strategy is the Fan Profiles section on ESPN.com, which allows subscribers to build profiles and post comments on ESPN articles, and respond to posts by other subscribers.

“We have deliberately fostered this notion of a conversation where fans talk to each other — that’s what’s happening,” Davis said, referring to the Conversations section on ESPN.com, which highlights the hottest topics of debate.

CBS distributes video through its CBS
Audience Network (top). ESPN’s social-
networking reach includes Bebo (above).

ESPN has seen a 200 percent jump on the number of new profiles activated on the Web site since April, the network said.

Davis said he expects social networking to drive traffic increases on ESPN.com. “The notion of allowing [fans] to get together with other people that are passionate one way or another about something on our site … ultimately that’s going to be really good for our business,” he said.

The level of participation in social networks varies by network.

On Facebook, Golf Channel counts just 134 members on its page and Fox Soccer Channel has 130 members. Neither channel updates its Facebook pages frequently. MySpace contains several “channels” dedicated to sports programmers, including Sports Illustrated, the NBA, Universal Sports, Export Village Sports, JumpTV, VideoJug Sports & Fitness, Rip Curl and Watch Mojo Sports. MySpace also features a channel dedicated to Super Bowl commercials.

CBS Corp., which acquired CNET Networks for $1.8 billion earlier this year, distributes video content on Bebo and several other social networks through its CBS Audience Network, which reaches 300 Web sites. “We talk about social networking — how do you maximize that. Social networking is about deepening the connection [with the viewer], so we welcome that,” CBS President Les Moonves said at the MIXX Conference in New York in September.

Some networks and studios have complained when users on MySpace.com upload copyrighted videos to their home pages. However, some networks have struck deals with the News Corp. subsidiary to sell advertising on videos that users upload to the site. Earlier this month, for example, MTV Networks signed an agreement to use MySpace’s Auditude advertising system.

News Corp. President Peter Chernin told analysts recently that advertisers have been spending 50 to 60 percent of their Internet media budgets on Google and other Web portals and just 10 percent on social-networking sites. But he said advertisers are beginning to spend more on MySpace and its rivals.

“That’s just an education thing. It’s just them getting more and more comfortable with the power, and value, and growth of social networking. So I think we’re seeing that happen,” Chernin said in September at a Merrill Lynch conference.

Steve Donohue is a writer in New York.

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