reporter's notebook PARK CITY, Utah--Maybe I'm just easily impressed or I need to get out of the newsroom more often, but I was pretty excited about getting some face-to-face time with MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe Friday at the Sundance Film Festival here. After all, he's a relative celebrity in the technology realm, and I had tons of questions to ask him in the 20 minutes I was allotted.
Then, however, Christie Brinkley--following the launch of her third "Got Milk" ad campaign--walked by outside the MySpace Cafe where DeWolfe and I had been sitting. Brinkley, surrounded by a media entourage and star-struck festivalgoers, offered some perspective on true celebrity and also served as an illustration for DeWolfe's explanation of why the company is here.
Sundance "is a place where cultural and creative communities come together...actors, actresses, directors, and producers," he said, adding that MySpace is much the same kind of place.
That segued nicely into a couple of the initiatives DeWolfe was pitching. First, the just-launched MySpace Celebrity, described as a global community focused on Hollywood culture and news that's meant to connect celebrities with their fans to raise awareness for special projects and causes. Right now, more than 600 celebrities are taking part, according to MySpace.
A timely such offshoot is called Presidential Pledge, spearheaded by actor Ashton Kutcher, who has a film here and is also leading a live Web show here with Digg founder Kevin Rose. Under Presidential Pledge, DeWolfe said, celebrities are encouraged to record a pledge of service for President-elect Obama. The videos, edited by Demi Moore, will be posted on MySpace Celebrity, but will also be delivered to Obama on Inauguration Day.
"The pledges will live on MySpace," DeWolfe said. "The hope is it will inspire everyday users to also make a Presidential Pledge of service and upload it."
Moving on to non-celebrity business, I decided to focus on the gray economic clouds--even if we were surrounded by glorious blue skies and snow-packed mountains. DeWolfe maintained his "cautiously optimistic" economic outlook for MySpace, and touted the company's strong revenue growth in the first half of the fiscal year even as the economy was souring.
But in the last three months, financial markets have been hit "harder than ever in my life," he said, bracing himself for some "small softening" for the second half of the year.
Fox Interactive Media, the News Corp. division that encompasses MySpace, Photobucket, and other digital properties, was declared the top destination for display ads on the Web several months ago. But display ads are expected to be hit harder than other digital advertising, and DeWolfe admitted that presents a challenge for MySpace.
Luckily, he said, the company doesn't rely so heavily on the financial and auto sectors.
As for the newly launched MySpace Music and its place in the digital music marketplace, DeWolfe doesn't see it as an iTunes competitor and seemed unfazed by Apple's recent DRM-free music announcements.
"MySpace Music is much more of a social site," he said, adding that it helps people discover new music through trusted sources and shared communities. "I see iTunes and MySpace as complementary. If anything, we're driving iPod sales."
Speaking of competition, DeWolfe doesn't fear Facebook domination, even given its recent spike in users. He sees Facebook more as an "efficient messaging system" and cited recent ComScore data that showed MySpace well above Facebook in terms of numbers of unique users.
On the horizon, he says to look for a huge increase in the use of MySpace's mobile platform.
And no, even given that I'm here at Sundance, where celebrity gossip abounds, I just couldn't bring myself to ask DeWolfe about rumors of his Paris Hilton romance. Some entertainment reporter I am! Hey, at least I got this money shot of Brinkley (makes up for the bad lighting in the DeWolfe photo). And for those wondering why Brinkley's campaign launched here, the National Milk Mustache "Got milk?" campaign is a festival sponsor.
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