Yesterday morning, Tim Vanderhook was the CEO of a relatively little-known ad network called Specific Media. Today, he's the owner of Myspace, after Specific Media emerged as the bargain buyer of the pioneering social networking site for a reported $35 million.
So now what? Specific Media quickly followed up on its acquisition news with the announcement that Justin Timberlake will be a part owner in the new company and creative advisor of sorts, charged with reinvigorating both the Myspace product and brand.
And what does all that mean for music and the Myspace Music joint venture? Vanderhook spoke with Billboard this morning about his plans for the company, Timberlake's role in its future, and how the music industry and Myspace Music joint venture will operate going forward.
Billboard.biz: Why did you want to buy Myspace?
Tim Vanderhook: Specific Media is a big, global advertising business. We have 500 employees across 11 countries. We've developed a tremendous amount of technology around the advertising space, and we've been real competitive in that for about 10 years. About a year ago we decided we wanted to transform the business and do something bigger, and that was to become a digital media company -- to not [just] be in the advertising business, but be in the content business as well. So we were looking for a partner that we could pair the business with, leverage the strength Specific Media has in the advertising business and mash that up with someone of equal power on the content side. Obviously Myspace brings an iconic brand with huge reach of about 70 million unique users a month, and perfectly overlaps with the international reach we have.
BBB: Obviously with Justin Timberlake involved, music will be a strong focus of this, correct?
Vanderhook: Absolutely music will be involved, but it won't be the only thing we do. Obviously you look at someone like Justin, he's an incredibly talented artist and musician, but he's so much more than that. He as the ability to do TV, movies, he has an incredible photography and design sense. Music will be important to us going forward, but it's more about being an entertainment company rather than music in general.
BBB: How did Timberlake get involved?
Vanderhook: As we were looking at Myspace as the one we wanted to partner with, there was also a need to invigorate the Myspace brand. We needed to find one of the most talented artists we could get to really drive the creative strategy. The first name on that list was obviously Timberlake. When we got in front of him and told him what our vision was and strategy was going to be, he got really excited. I think we touched on one of his passion points; to be able to drive a community where artists could be discovered and share their talent. He's got a big passion for that and I think we struck a chord. Justin is going to be the creative force behind Myspace and help us drive the strategy of what the tools need to be for artists and what the community should look like. I think anytime you put the development of the product in someone's hands as talented as he is, I think it's a pretty good bet.
BBB: How did you get his attention?
Vanderhook: We found people that we knew who also know his groups, and wound up getting a meeting. Once we talked to him, the excitement level just continued to go up into the partnership announced yesterday. We're extremely lucky to have such a talented individual be a partner with us.
BBB: What will his role be?
Vanderhook: Justin will have an office at the Myspace offices. He'll have a staff of about a half dozen people working on his behalf executing his ideas. Of course he's a busy guy with multiple careers, so when his time is open he'll be there to do things himself.
BBB: What's the status of the Myspace Music joint venture?
Vanderhook: We basically just inserted ourselves in there. It's still intact. The labels are still involved. The same, exact structure is still intact. And we think by putting these two businesses together, that joint venture will only get stronger. Just given the strength on Specific's side in the advertising business, we believe we can bring a lot of marketers into the Myspace Music program and make it more successful for all the partners involved.
BBB: Did you have to renegotiate new music streaming rights with the labels involved?
Vanderhook: No, everything stayed intact as it was.
BBB: What role will the labels have in the future direction of the company?
Vanderhook: We want to work with these guys to try to find a business model that works really well. We have a great program and structure with what we have now. I think they'll be excited that Specific can bring more advertising dollars into the music business. So I think we bring a strength there that probably wasn't as big as when Myspace was a standalone entity. We're going to learn from these guys, looking for what they're hoping to accomplish, and we can teach them a bit about what we think we can do from an advertising side. Overall, I think you're going to see a much stronger partnership moving forward.
BBB: So will Myspace be more of a social network or more of an entertainment service?
Vanderhook: I think the line are blurred. Social media is really the blending of those; the way content is discovered is through social circles, I think it's hard to decouple them and we're going to invest in both those areas pretty aggressively.
BBB: Will Myspace still be the place for bands to connect with fans?
Vanderhook: We want to bring Myspace back to what it was supposed to be. That's where we're focused. We want it to be a community where professional content creators can make it their digital home, and give them the tools to build the community around them.
BBB: When do you expect to unveil more details?
Vanderhook: Somewhere between two or three months or so we'll hold a press conference.
BBB: I don't have to tell you that Myspace has become a damaged brand. How do you plan to address that?
Vanderhook: The current perception of the Myspace brand is obviously something we're going to address. Anytime you take over a business like this, there are certainly challenges. For us, we're going to address those challenges head-on and bring a lot of firepower. If we solve the product problem, the brand itself will be reinvigorated. You can't make the brand better without creating a great product, and can't have a great product without a great brand to go with it. You can't decouple the two. With someone as creative and talented as Justin driving the creativity behind it, I think it's going to be very successful and very well received. And overall the perception for Myspace will change.