Analysis: What is Bebo's Open Media initiative, and why does it matter?

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We missed this earlier in the week, but it’s worth covering in depth. Bebo has announced its Open Media initiative, which it describes rather grandly as “a new vision for social media and entertainment”. Translation: they’re partnering with lots of broadcasters to distribute their video via Bebo’s social network.

On board already are the likes of the BBC, BSkyB, MTV, Channel Four and ITN, as well as Web 2.0 firms like Last.fm and Premium TV. These companies will be launching their own customised video players on Bebo, which users can embed in their profiles and share with their friends.

The broadcasters sell their own advertising and keep all the revenues, with Bebo figuring the presence of all this top-drawer video will lead to users spending more time on its website, and thus plump up its own advertising and sponsorship revenues. As a result, Bebo says it now wants to be known as a ‘social media network’, not just a social network.

“Every media company is looking for better ways to deliver their content online,” says Bebo president Joanna Shields. “By opening our platform to media owners, who gain free access to our community while retaining control over their brand, their content and their revenues, we are creating valuable new inventory for advertisers and a new business model for the entire media industry.”

From a user’s point of view, it’s all based around their Personal Video Profile, where they collect their favourite videos from Bebo’s partners. For example, the BBC has clips of The Mighty Boosh, Strictly Come Dancing and Dragon’s Den, and MTV has My Super Sweet 16 and Living On The Edge. You can also subscribe to channels to get alerts when they add new stuff.

So why is this important? It’s the general principle of big broadcasters accepting that they can distribute their shows through other people’s sites without losing control of the advertising or the branding. This didn’t start with Bebo, mind. There’ve been moves afoot within the TV industry all year, as they come to terms with the impact – and more importantly the potential – of distributing content through social networks, media sites and other Web 2.0 services.

What I like about Bebo’s approach is that it’s not just about slapping TV shows onto their own pages and hoping users will watch them. The sharing aspects are important, as is the ability to pick and choose shows from different providers and put them into your own customised channel (if this isn’t already possible on Bebo, hopefully it will be soon).

Open Media does raise questions though. What about the film studios: will they have a role to play in this? Will people watch full-length movies through their social networking profiles, or share trailers? How about the music industry – there are some music videos on Open Media, but there’s scope for a lot more in that area.

How will it tie into a recommendation engine to create a customised channel of stuff it thinks you’ll like, rather than stuff you’ve compiled? Is Bebo the new TiVo, in other words? And if so, how could this kind of service get onto your actual television, so your evening’s big-screen viewing is being served up from your social network.

Exciting times.

Stuart Dredge

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