paidContent.org - MSN Celeb Site Wonderwall Flips The On Switch
Thursday, February 5, 2009; 5:07 AM
Microsoft's MSN is following AOL's TMZ and Yahoo's OMG with a 10-letter word: Wonderwall, the joint production of MSN and BermanBraun Interactive going live today. Wonderwall exemplifies the latest rage in portal strategy?a site that can stand alone with its own brand while feeding from and feeding into the portal.
To most, it looks like MSN is playing catchup. Not so, argues MSN GM Rob Bennett, who contends that Wonderwall provides a single destination for content scattered across MSN, not something completely new. "The reality is a lot of the same content and the same audience is there." That lack of a single destination is "why it looks like we're further behind than we probably are." Bennett expects the promotional power of MSN to help Wonderwall catch up fast: " I think when we turn the firehose on in different places; it's going to be a close race." MSN also has an off-network campaign in the works.
Bennett says MSN funded "a lot" of the start-up costs and initial development; the studio headed by Gail Berman and former Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Media Group head Lloyd Berman built the site and operates it. The two co-sell. He calls it a twist on revenue sharing: "It's set up so we are absolutely both mutually motivated for the site to succeed." MediaVest is already on board with some of its clients, No specifics but Bennett says the centralized site is already getting higher CPMs than similar content scattered across MSN. It's mostly display for now but adding more video inventory is a goal. Bennett said the sales experience for Wonderwall "should give hope to the industry that they still have dollars out there, that advertisers are willing to spend for the right experiences beyond the standard ads."
Why not simply buy PerezHilton.com? Bennett laughed and said he and Perez talked about the idea at the Video Music Awards last year but the BermanBraun deal already was in place. Beyond that, "If we wanted to do Perez, we could have done that with existing resources. We wanted to build out more than just a blog."
Wonderwall blends aggregation and original content with a slick horizontal scroll "wall" meant to resemble the pageflipping of a magazine. It doesn't quite carry that off but the distinct, polished look on a black background dominated by images has a very different feel from the fun tabloid style of OMG or blog tabloid TMZ. (Braun is credited with pushing OMG while he was at Yahoo; BermanBraun also has a deal with Yahoo.)
It also has something in common: the power of the portal. Bennett likens the front page of MSN to a "wall of firehoses." A navigation link produces a steady stream of visits but editorial placement on the front page pushes even more. At the same time, Wonderwall's model is based on increasing the amount of externally driven traffic.