Bringing Timberlake on MySpace board can’t be Justified

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Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp has sold MySpace to ad network Specific Media and – bizarrely – Justin Timberlake for $35m (£21.9m), a mere fraction of the price it was bought for, but can the former NSync star really bring sexyback to the flailing social network?

In a bizarre form of art imitating life, Justin Timberlake, the singer-cum-actor that played Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president, in The Social Network movie, has become one of MySpace’s key investors and will be involved in developing the creative strategy for the site. He takes up the role of creative director and will have his own office and six staff.

Together, Timberlake and Specific Media plan to “evolve Myspace into the premier digital destination for original shows, video content and music”.

JT says on his fan site: “There’s a need for a place where fans can go to interact with their favourite entertainers, listen to music, watch videos, share and discover cool stuff and just connect. Myspace has the potential to be that place.”

MySpace definitely has potential, in as much as any insignificant page on the web has the potential to hit the top of the Google rankings, but MySpace has a heck of a mountain to climb if it is to return to its former grace.

NewsCorp already tried to overhaul the site to be more music focused last year. The redesign, aiming to turn the social network into a “social entertainment destination” (which sounds familiar) had little effect and the site continued to lose NewsCorp tens of millions of dollars each month.

NewsCorp had no choice but to sell MySpace, which it bought for $580m when the site was booming in 2005 for just $35m – $5m less than Twitter reportedly bought third-party app TweetDeck for.

At $35m, advertising network Specific Media has negotiated a reasonable price for a fantastic data haul.

Despite most of MySpace’s users migrating over to Facebook, their profiles remain. Most importantly, the audience, whether active or not, is an advertisers’ dream: the ever lucrative Generation Y.

Specific Media is expected to integrate MySpace’s social networking infrastructure into its ad campaigns, generating social and viral elements for its clients.

It is likely the company sees a renewed process of providing digital advertising to brands as the key to revitalising MySpace’s plummeting ad revenues.

But the power of advertising is unlikely to sit well with consumers. Relevant ads, on the site that is currently cluttered with cheap weight loss promotions, will certainly make the site seem a little more user-friendly, but the users are no longer MySpace’s friends.

MySpace failed its most loyal users by failing to adapt to them as they grew older and failed to compete when competitors entered the space with superior products, as I wrote earlier this year when it was first announced the site was for sale.

Specific Media hopes that Justin Timberlake, as the new face of MySpace as well as one of its stakeholders, can use the powers of pop to convert the disillusioned.

It is well known that Justin Timberlake owns a range of restaurants, a clothes brand and a tequila company. What is less publicised is the fact that he has been providing investment to start up digital companies via Tennman Digital, based in San Francisco’s tech valley.

But can the wealthy king of pop, with a proven interest in digital, become a turnaround king?

Bringing Justin Timberlake on board at the eleventh hour to save MySpace is like bringing Lewis Hamilton on board to steer a sinking Titanic – it’s glitzy and cool but completely incongruous. The ship has already sunk.

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