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Disney Obviously No Weight Watcher

WWW- As part of the marketing effort for its big summer movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” Walt Disney Co. last month held a contest on the popular social networking site

To publicize the contest, Disney built its own “page” on MySpace and bought an ad on MySpace’s front page. But it steered clear of the profile pages created by MySpace’s nearly 85 million users — the popular but controversial part of the site where users post links to friends’ pages, list their likes and dislikes and display photos, sometimes including scenes of underage drinking and sexually suggestive material.

“We would never be on a personal profile,” says Jack Pan, vice president of marketing at Disney’s Buena Vista Pictures. “We want to be in the official areas.”

Disney is one of an increasing number of advertisers that are cautiously starting to embrace MySpace. Acquired by News Corp. last year, MySpace is one of the fastest growing and most heavily trafficked sites on the Internet, and its largely teenage membership is very attractive to advertisers. Marketers worry, though, about the site’s reputation as an uncontrolled virtual community where pornographers and sexual predators are known to lurk.

To draw in advertisers, MySpace has quietly begun building an array of new sections, highlighted on the front page, that deal with subjects ranging from books and movies to games, comedy and horoscopes. The areas, which contain articles written by editors and links to related blogs and groups elsewhere on MySpace, are meant to be “safe” for advertisers that want to appear on the site but don’t want to be associated with unsavory material.

The new sections are also part of a larger News Corp. effort to turn MySpace into a full-fledged portal that can compete with Yahoo Inc. Although News Corp. has been careful not to micromanage the wildly successful site, it has been quietly beefing up its features — adding, for example, video downloads and instant messaging — to make it look more like a regular portal.

Next up: an overhaul of MySpace’s search engine. The company is talking to Google Inc., Yahoo and Microsoft Corp.’s MSN to determine which would provide better search technology. Chris DeWolfe, chief executive of MySpace, says that search represents “a pretty large revenue opportunity,” and that the company expects a search partner to be chosen within the next six months.

News Corp. has taken other steps to beef up MySpace’s ad sales, including hyping the site to advertisers attending the annual programming presentation of a sibling division, the Fox TV network, in May. The company also recently poached AOL’s top ad sales executive, Michael Barrett. He is now chief revenue officer for Fox Interactive, the News Corp. unit that oversees MySpace.

In the meantime, the site is showing promising results drawing advertisers to its so-called safe areas. In addition to advertising in the topical sections, Disney, DaimlerChrysler AG’s Dodge and others are paying tens of thousands of dollars to build “profile” pages to promote their brands.

Rich Greenfield, an analyst at Pali Research, estimates that MySpace generated ad revenue of $15.5 million a month in May, up from about $2.5 million a month when News Corp. announced the acquisition last July. At that rate, he estimates, MySpace will take in $200 million in ad revenue in 2006.

To be sure, MySpace remains a controversial site among parents and law-enforcement officials. Several state attorneys general are pushing MySpace to provide more safeguards for children on the site. Republican Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania recently proposed a bill — the Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006 — that would restrict minors from accessing sites such as and MySpace at schools and public libraries. And just yesterday, the family of a 14-year-old Texas girl that says she was sexually assaulted by a man she met on MySpace sued the company for $30 million.

In response to these concerns, MySpace has hired a chief security officer and beefed up some safety measures. The company is scheduled to announce additional steps today, including preventing members over 18 years of age from contacting 14- and 15-year-olds they don’t already know without their permission, and giving all users more control over their privacy settings. Tomorrow, the company will participate in a conference in Washington, D.C., about online safety.

Marketers say they appreciate these moves. “A key condition of working with MySpace was that they were working on safety issues,” says PepsiCo Inc. spokeswoman Nicole Bradley. She says the company’s MySpace programs “run on screened sections of the site that are pretty mainstream.” Pepsi’s Aquafina has been sponsoring the MySpace Independent Filmmakers section since January. And Pepsi’s Sierra Mist lemon-lime drink has sponsored the Comedy section since it launched a month ago.

Still, it isn’t clear how much attention MySpace users will pay to these advertiser-friendly areas. Many users spend most of their time on their own pages and those of their friends. MySpace says its well-established music section has about 8.1 million unique visitors each month, while the video section — which was introduced in April — attracts about seven million visitors a month. In contrast, overall traffic to MySpace hit 51.4 million a month in May, according to comScore Media Metrix, up from 15.6 million a year ago.

Advertisers can get some sense of their success by tracking their pages’ “friends” — MySpace members who link their page to the advertiser’s page, often to enter a contest or for some other benefit. A profile page built for 20th Century Fox’s “X-Men III: The Last Stand” has attracted more than three million friends so far — in part because of an offer that those who befriended X-Men would be allowed to boost the number of “top friends” permitted on their own profile pages to 16 from eight. Exit polling showed that 15% of the under-25 audience for X-Men heard about the movie on MySpace. (20th Century Fox is also owned by News Corp.)

Similarly, Disney’s MySpace page for “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which offered people the first look at the film’s trailer, has attracted more than 70,000 friends. Another Disney film with a MySpace page, a movie about dancers called “StepUp,” has attracted more than 20,000 friends, some of whom entered a dance competition to be in the movie.

“We’ve been able to really learn from the real fans about what they like and what they are interested in and been able to respond to them,” says Mr. Pan, the Disney vice president of marketing.



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