Is Wonderwall Gonna Be the One That Saves MSN?
In an interesting and innovative move compared to what has typically been less-than-hip online programming over the years, Microsoft’s MSN service is debuting a slick new celebrity site called Wonderwall today–created, designed and produced by a Hollywood company run by former Yahoo media chief and well-known television exec Lloyd Braun.
Using an unusual horizontal design with a scrolling “wall,” a plethora of pictures and a deeply visual sensibility, it’s definitely a laudable risk for Microsoft as the company seeks to continue to push itself into the online content business, despite a lackluster record.
The site, by BermanBraun Interactive, which is being launched right before the Grammy Awards, will aggregate content from a variety of partners, but also use a small staff of editors to differentiate it and give it “voice.” BermanBraun will operate Wonderwall for MSN.
Last week, in yet another sign that it is upping the content ante at MSN, Microsoft hired Yahoo’s most recent media head Scott Moore, who used to work at Microsoft (MSFT).
“We are investing more than ever in content,” said MSN GM Rob Bennett. “With Wonderwall, we are creating an offering to attract and retain new audiences, using content that is already at the core of MSN.”
But unlike other MSN sites, there is more subtle MSN branding on Wonderwall, although Microsoft’s search will be an important part of the site. MSN will promote Wonderwall across the service and will also give it an external marketing push.
To make money, Microsoft and BermanBraun are jointly selling the advertising for Wonderwall, which also has a partnership with MediaVest, to bring major brands to the site.
One obstacle is the huge amount of competition in the Internet space, from AOL-backed TMZ to Perez Hilton to omg! from Yahoo (YHOO), which is currently the most-trafficked celebrity site (and, ironically, was pushed through Yahoo by Braun and Moore).
But the interest in this pop culture category is obvious–celeb-focused online programming has grown strongly.
Celeb news-obsessed BoomTown accounts for much of that traffic (How much do we love following the hijinks of Britney? Much!).
So, I hightailed it to the Santa Monica offices of BermanBraun yesterday to have a look-see at Wonderwall and do some video interviews.
Overall, I was struck by the site’s arresting visual design, particularly the easily interactive wall, which has what I can only call an “iPhone” feel combined with a flipping-through-a-magazine tone (see above; click on image to make it larger).
With more touchscreen technology moving to personal computers, you can easily see Wonderwall being manipulated by hand.
And it makes great use of linking out, another plus, without excessively pointing to only Microsoft sites.
One problem: No true ability for users to interact on Wonderwall, via comments or other social-networking tools, which Braun said are coming soon, along with videos being able to be played in the main wall.
But overall, it raises the stakes in the celeb market and gives users a new interface without straying too far.
Here’s my video interview with Braun, along with another below it with his partner, former Fox and Paramount exec Gail Berman, and also Wonderwall’s top creators–all talking about Wonderwall.
(And, as an added bonus at the bottom, Oasis singing their hit, “Wonderwall.”)
Gail Berman and Wonderwall Staff: