Q&A: MySpaceTV’s Jason Kirk

Not to say I’m a sucker for fast talkers, but Jason Kirk spills new media gospel so fast you can tell he’s not making it up. Still, as the vice president of MySpaceTV, the best example of Kirk’s work is the schlocky web show Roommates.

It’s funny when you think back about how part of the early popularity of YouTube was due to MySpace not having a video offering of its own. But these days MySpace is actually being pretty innovative on the video front, experimenting with all sorts of original web content ventures. Just last weekend we wrote about the site’s newest project, I Love Chieftown.

We caught up with Kirk this week, and he told us that MySpace is actually discontinuing Roommates, not because it wasn’t successful but because it’s time to move on. Below is an edited transcript of as much as my fingers could type while we talked.

NewTeeVee: How long ago did you join MySpace, and how did you come to lead MyspaceTV?

Jason Kirk: I worked at HBO before this for 3 years. I was trying to do a deal with MySpace to promote [our comedy festivals], but HBO didn’t care about all that, they just wanted the money, so MySpace said why don’t you come here. There was this thing called “viral videos” and it needed more attention. I was really kind of the first hire on the content marketing and sales side, there were some people on product working on it. When Jeff Berman [the former MySpaceTV head] was promoted, the opportunity arose. So I’ve been with the company for a little under two years.

NewTeeVee: What is the vision for MySpaceTV?

Kirk: We’re always very aware that we’re a community first. Much like music started to prevail, we’re trying to do the same thing with video. It’s a part of people’s daily online lives, and we’re trying to create a lean-forward experience, to utilize the profiles, the sharing, the profiles as a storytelling device, bringing video to the community and community elements to video.

NewTeeVee: How is your original content initiative going?

Kirk: It’s been very well-received. We’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of great conversations with a lot of Hollywood talent. But we don’t just want the idea that every TV network last year passed on flipping to us. We’re not trying to be development execs as much as lifeguards of the community.

To use Roommates as an example, these guys had done stuff before and we liked what they did so we asked them what you want to do. They wanted to do something fictional like reality but not portrayed either way. The episodes got combined over 12.5 million views, there were another 5.5 million views to the Roommates profile page. The girls actually all had blogs off of their profiles and a million viewers of those blogs. So we were really happy with that, had two sponsors on board [for the second season], one that returned from the first season. It really set the course as Prom Queen did before that and showed there was a market for that.

There’s another one I’m really proud of, Special Delivery, which doesn’t have all the community elements, but it uses the platform. We’ve all seen hidden camera shows but they drag things out. It doesn’t have to be 22 minutes. The videos thus far have averaged approx 500,000 views each. It’s important to know that while we have 73 million uniques on MySpace, they’re not all here for video, and we know that. All of us use the Internet for more than one type of content.

NewTeeVee: Do you have plans to do more original content?

Kirk: We’re being selective because we don’t want to crowd our own marketplace. We’ll do more of these as they make sense. I think things like Roommates and Special Delivery get people thinking, and the more of those people we can get through our door the better.

NewTeeVee: How important do you think it is to get exclusive content on MySpace, if only for a portion of time?

Kirk: If it’s something like National Geographic that’s pervasive, it’s important for us to have it. Whenever people search for video, we want it to be here. Because then it’s going to domino, and then all your friends who have your subscription updates [showing your activity on the site] find out about it, and they’ll watch it. What you need [as a content producer] is an incentive for us to promote it. If you want us to get behind this we need to be able to offer our users something unique.

NewTeeVee: How much do you have to negotiate on each deals at this point, over upfront payments and guaranteed revenues or whatever else people are asking for? Or do you have a set series of terms now?

Kirk: That’s a good question. I definitely have some war wounds from the beginning, especially from our branded channels. That’s become pretty standardized but not until after talking to tens of partners so we can focus our attention on originals or unique content opportunities.

NewTeeVee: Would you guarantee some kind of payment? I know Amit Kapur [now MySpace COO] had told us at NewTeeVee Live that MySpace doesn’t do that.

Kirk: It depends on what the deal is — if it’s a non-exclusive branded channel deal, I don’t really see the value in that. We share revenue on the ad, and we’re trying to stay consistent with other sites. If we’re doing something original, there is some kind of advance, but we try to do the pilot approach, to evaluate that what they pitched us is what we’re seeing. It’s more than a signing bonus, it’s we’ll commit some financial resources going forward. We know TV and film can write big checks but their economic model is mature, so we need to protect our business.

NewTeeVee: What advertising and sponsorship initiatives are working particularly well, if any?

Kirk: User-generated is more focused thing. But if you look at branded channels, which we have more than 100 of now, it allows advertisers to associate with content. It’s not integration. Where it really gets fun is if we can integrate them into the storylines, and a good example of that is CIBA and their contact lenses, so there’s one scene in Roommates where this girl is changing her look so she’s trying on new contact lenses. We might not have done it if there wasn’t the sponsor, but it’s not so far-fetched.

NewTeeVee: Are the sponsors still on board for Roommates going forward?

Kirk: We don’t want to wear it out too much.

NewTeeVee: So you’re not continuing the show?

Kirk: We have no plans to do more Roommates today. It’s kind of like I feel about Entourage, it’s over already. We want to make our audience feel satisfied. In traditional entertainment you’re backed into timelines, but we’re trying to say make it good, whether it’s 2 minutes or 5 minutes. There’s an opportunity to take it abroad with the ShineReveille deal.

NewTeeVee: Featuring something on MySpaceTV or the MySpace homepage drives a tremendous amount of traffic. What factors go into what you pick?

Kirk: If you look at it you’ll still see most of the videos are user-generated. we ask partners to keep us posted, send us links. We have an editorial team, and a marketing team. Obviously if we have a more formalized arrangement it’s sometimes part of the offering. Based on the response, we’ll adjust it or change it, while also making sure our deals and the partnerships we’ve made are upheld. Animals, celebrity-driven stuff, they do well.

NewTeeVee: Have you seen much traction for the Hulu content?

Kirk: It’s been working well. We’ve created “Primetime” that not only showcases Hulu video but other premium content. It’s a great library of content. Clips play much better than the full stuff. It’s not like I’m going to sit back in my dorm room and watch Napoleon Dynamite on MySpace, I’m going to watch the DVD. But it’s those moments that we remember movies for anyways. And now not only can I watch it I can share it.

NewTeeVee: Any last thoughts? Where is this going?

Kirk: All I can say is that we’re constantly looking to evolve. We by no means think that we’ve cornered the market. Obviously there’s another video site out there that does quite well. We’re trying to decide what makes sense for our community. The video is often the catalyst, but it’s about how does it play into the community.