MySpace Still a Player? Woos Gen-Y at SXSW Music Fest

myspace-faderfortFoursquare, Scvngr, and Twitter may be among the most buzzed about companies at SXSW Interactive, but MySpace is hoping to make a splash at the show’s music fest. As the beleaguered company begins pitching a roster of new ad formats and a new brand page platform to agencies, MySpace is focused on monetizing what it seems to do best: music and movies for Gen Y.

Austin’s SXSW live music extravaganza just kicked off, and MySpace is there as a partner with music and lifestyle magazine Fader. The social networking site will live-stream over 40 musical acts appearing in the “Fader Fort” SXSW venue sponsored by Fiat. The automaker is promoting test-drives of its 2012 Fiat 500 at Fiat of Austin.

On Wednesday, live performances from acts including Oh Land, Young The Giant, Friendly Fires and Yelawolf can be caught on MySpace online and via Apple iPhones and iPads.

“It’s a big presence for us,” said Nada Stirratt, chief revenue officer at MySpace, regarding the SXSW effort.

The Fiat sponsorship was sold by Fader, but MySpace has brought in advertiser brands for other recent music related efforts. Late last year, Sprite sponsored a MySpace contest and Web series inspired by the social media-fueled dancing style known as “Jerkin,” demonstrating the site’s mission to highlight what’s popular among its users.

An August 2010 live-streaming event featuring Big Boi was presented by HP and Windows 7. The streaming hip hop show helped HP boost its friends list from 132 to 1.4 million, said Stirratt.

Consumer electronics brands, quick-serve restaurants and film studios dominate MySpace’s advertiser client list. “They’re very core to our audience,” said Stirratt, stressing the site’s focus on Generation Y – typically people in their 20s.

In fact, MySpace recruits Gen-Y participants from New York University for its in-house “lab” research. The company developed a biometric research system to measure efficacy of advertising and content development with the help of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Innerscope Research.

myspace-battle-laFilm advertisers are especially prevalent on the site. Sony Pictures, for instance, last week used MySpace’s new “Dynamic HD Skin” ad format to hype action flick “Battle LA.” The ads allow images and video to creep into the gutters of a page. Some of the new ads let users shift right to left to expose more content and interactivity.

And, while ads for “The Social Network” ironically were absent from Facebook, Sony used the HD Skin format to push the movie on MySpace in September.

“We’re trying to figure out better usage of all the real estate,” Stirratt said, noting MySpace has eliminated several ad units and tightened site navigation.

MySpace also is currently testing an ad unit that dynamically displays sequenced ads as the user scrolls down the page; ads lower on the page are informed by user interaction with ads higher up.

To many these initiatives will seem a last-ditch effort by a shrinking site to appeal to big brand advertisers. MySpace continues to hemorrhage users at a dramatic rate. According to comScore, the site attracted just 37.7 million unique U.S. visitors in February 2011, compared to 44.8 million in January. MySpace was down nearly 30 million monthly uniques this February compared to February 2010. Meanwhile, Facebook has steadily gained uniques, growing from 111.8 million to 150.7 million in that time.

The new formats are not the only changes at MySpace, which has also embraced a more agency-centric sales structure and enhanced its brand profile page features.

Last year, the company disabled brand page capabilities in preparation for its new Foundry platform, developed in-house. The platform, which features a drag and drop interface for uploading and organizing campaign assets and creating interactive content like contests, is available only to MySpace advertisers. “If you’re buying media on MySpace, we will build the Foundry platform for you,” said Stirratt.

The company has restructured its sales force, dedicating four-person teams to individual agencies in a bid to improve agency relations and “prospect more,” Stirratt said. For instance, a lead sales exec and junior sales exec, ad ops and creative-focused strategy person work exclusively with MediaVest.

“We’ve been focusing on forging deeper relationships with agencies, and focusing on agency relationships rather than brand relationships,” added Stirratt.

Jack Marshall contributed to this story.

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