Can JT Bring Myspace’s Sexy Back?

At its peak in 2006, Myspace was the most-visited website in the United States, reportedly surpassing Google Search and Yahoo!. Just a year earlier, NewsCorp had purchased the site for $580 million, a sky-high price many tech observers then considered to be a bargain. But flash forward to 2011, and it was an entirely different story when the media giant unloaded the struggling social media platform for a cut rate of $35 million, a staggering indication of its waning relevance.

Now owned by Specific Media, and with a personal investment from Justin Timberlake, Myspace has shed many of its original features and adopted entirely new ones in a bid to become the next big thing in music sharing, internet radio, and livestreaming of concerts and interviews with pop stars and indie artists.

In June of this year, Timberlake hosted a re-launch party for the brand in L.A., with celeb guests Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and Ashley Tisdale, unveiling features like Myspace’s streaming radio player, something akin to the well-established Pandora. Late last month, Myspace also announced it would begin to produce original music videos, starting with a collaboration with the well-regarded Brooklyn band TV on the Radio. It’s a promising sign for the site, which many young millenials—the platform’s traditional user base—had all but relegated to the digital dustbin.

So how did one of the hottest internet companies in the world fumble so badly in the first place? Some critics say co-founder Tom Anderson and his team relied on a model that allowed users too much freedom in customizing their profile. Pages with tons of extra frills resembled a teenager’s bedroom walls, taking an exasperating length of time to load.

The site also had an open door policy, making it vulnerable to spam accounts, while Facebook, its ascendant rival, began as a place for verified college students to connect. With that exclusivity principle, along with a clean, uniform interface, the media giant grew exponentially after its launch in 2004, and soon lapped Myspace.

But can Myspace rewrite their story? After the acquisition by Specific Media, Myspace reportedly continued its downward spiral, bleeding an astounding $43 million on revenue of $15 million last year. Perhaps as a result, some of the company’s recent moves have seemed dramatic like this summer’s decision to delete old profiles en masse. Even though Myspace is clearing the decks, and positioning themselves as a plucky young startup with fresh ideas, it is important that they don’t alienate some of the brand’s diehard loyalists. Today, they are betting that the association with Timberlake, plus features like the exclusive livestream of choice concerts and the 14.2 million artists with music on the website, will persuade detractors.

While it’s too soon to tell if their pivot will make them profitable, their new partnerships might just be savvy enough to entice a new generation of users, the ones who were barely in high school when the old Myspace had become a byword for “uncool”.

Image: Adam Rifkin via Flickr