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It's Time for MSN, MySpace, and Yahoo to Pick Fights

  |  February 11, 2010   |  Comments

Apple's taking on Google. Facebook and Google are sparring. Media brands on the sidelines must get aggressive - or get marginalized.

Have you noticed how everyone seems to be fighting these days?

And not little squabbles, either. Knock-down, drag-out, steel cage match type battles.

Apple is taking on Google on multiple mobile fronts, both in terms of devices and the advertising they deliver. Apple also has a format war brewing with Adobe over the exclusion of Flash on iDevices, and it's about to go head to head with Amazon on ebooks.

Facebook, having already disposed of any meaningful competition in the social networking space, is on to bigger things. It's now in a war with Google in terms of absolute Web ubiquity, and which company owns more of our online lives. That's a fight Google is up for, as it is more and more interested in functioning like a social network itself - see the announcement of Google Buzz for proof of that.

And let's not forget that Google, in addition to its ongoing battles with Apple and Facebook, has also found the time to mix it up with a little country called...China.

Now, I'm a peaceable guy. But sometimes being in a fight is a good thing. And this is one of those times, because there's so much at stake.

We're in the midst of a major shift in the digital economy, as things get more social and more mobile. A new power structure is being cemented, one that will likely put a few key players in the driver's seat for the next several years.

Noticeably absent from the fisticuffs are many of the big winners of the last era of the Internet economy, like Yahoo, MSN, and MySpace.

And that's a bad sign, since the degree to which a company is involved in a big fight is probably a strong indicator of how relevant they have the potential to be in the near future.

So, if those guys are feeling left out and want to throw down, here are some suggestions of fights they might pick:

Yahoo

The online advertising community seems aligned in the view that government regulation around consumer privacy is a bad thing. Yahoo ought to take a contrarian approach to the privacy issue, and in the process put itself squarely at odds with ad networks.

No one has more to gain from government intervention than Yahoo because the government is only interested in regulating behavioral tracking across sites (i.e., what networks do), not within sites (i.e., what Yahoo does).

Yahoo should think about lobbying hard for an end to all cross-site behavioral targeting - except of course for targeting that can be done through its own network and exchange assets.

Yahoo would make a lot of enemies with this approach, but could end up as the only scalable source of behavioral advertising around.

MSN

MSN still sells itself (or at least, is viewed by many buyers) primarily as a destination site, surrounded by complementary assets. But for the purposes of Fight Club, it might be worth reorienting its sales story around the company's most exciting (and future-leaning) asset, Xbox.

Let Apple and Google compete for mobile dollars, but stake a claim on the home. With games, social networking, and content partners like Netflix and Last.fm, the Xbox could easily be positioned to consumers as a home replacement for all things Apple: iTunes, the iPad, and even Macs themselves.

For advertisers, the pitch would be even simpler: we can deliver 20 million connected consumers every month in their homes, with formats and creativity you're not going to get on a tablet, smartphone, or Mac. If you want to connect with people while they're at home, do it with Xbox.

MySpace

MySpace has a Facebook problem, and a big one. If it's true that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," then MySpace ought to get aligned with Google and figure out a way that together they can slow down Facebook's momentum.

Google can help MySpace with one of its biggest problems: for a multimillion-person community, it is almost invisible to advertisers and agencies. You just don't hear people talking about developing MySpace strategies, whereas you don't hear people not talking about doing the same for Facebook.

MySpace should start by riding the coattails of Google's ambitions to make search more social: ensure that MySpace is well integrated into Google Social Search, as well as Google Buzz. In short, use Google to help remind ad buyers that your site is alive and well.

These may or may not be the right fights to pick, but for the media brands on the sidelines, it's definitely time to get aggressive, or get marginalized as the game changes for good.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Cahill

Adam Cahill is the EVP, Media at Hill Holliday. You can connect with him on Twitter at @adamcahill.

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