Bebo opens virtual doors to media groups

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NEW YORK -- Bebo launched its Open Media platform Tuesday, partnering with companies such as CBS and MTV Networks to provide content throughout the social network's pages at no extra charge.

Open Media, which was introduced with events here and in London, will allow content companies to have their own channels on Bebo, the top social network in the U.K., with content that can be shared through users' pages. In addition to CBS and MTVN, initial partners include Turner Broadcasting Systems, ESPN, BBC and Yahoo and newer Web-based content companies like Sony's Crackle, Herb Scannell's Next New Networks and JibJab.

The networks can customize pages and use their own media players to present the content complete with their own advertising methods. This content, or the page's skin, can then be moved to a user page, an action which will then be alerted to that user's friends.

Speaking at the Bryant Park Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, Ziv Navoth, vp marketing and business development at Bebo, repeatedly stressed that Bebo would not take any cut in ad revenue. Rather, he said the appeal for his company is to make Bebo more attractive to its users.

"The ability to do this costs you nothing," Navoth said, speaking to network executives and press in attendance. "What's in it for us is thousands of hours of premium programming. We believe we'll give users continuing reasons to stay with us."

The appeal for the media companies, Navoth said, is access to Bebo's 40 million users. In addition to its popularity in the U.K., Bebo is a top community site in Ireland and New Zealand and it is third in the U.S. and Canada.

"To assume people will go to you is not only arrogant but foolish," said CBS Interactive president Quincy Smith, speaking at a panel at the event. "We have to be in there aggressively dangling our content."

Bebo has already been announced as part of CBS' Audience Network, along with larger partners such as AOL and Comcast. In joining Open Media, CBS is continuing its strategy of pushing its content, both full episodes and shorter clips, to a wide variety of online sources.

Smith also stressed that this plan made sense for ad agencies, which are increasingly looking for cross-platform promotions. He noted, as well, that the content would be streaming and not download-to-own on Open Media, meaning that CBS has complete control over what gets played on the site.

Greg Clayman, executive vp digital distribution and business development at MTVN, pointed out that the platform will be safe for advertisers, who are sometimes leery of marketing on social networks. He said he is excited about the opportunities to spread MTVN content virally through Bebo's user base, use that large audience to attract advertisers and be a part of the conversation around the network's shows.

Next New Networks CEO and co-founder Scannell said that Bebo's "global footprint" made Open Media attractive to his online network of niche Web video sites. He also said the fact that Bebo "removed the barriers," like ad-sharing or an insistence on a uniform media player, is "very meaningful."

This is latest in a series of moves Bebo has made to position itself as a media player. Earlier in the year, the social network launched the interactive drama "KateModern," a spinoff of "lonelygirl15," and next year the site will premiere the drama "Sofia's Diary" and reality series "The Gap Year" in a partnership with Endemol, which also will have a presence on Open Media.
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