Feature

All about ... NME.com's tenth anniversary

How has NME made so much of its online presence? Ian Darby reports.

"It's going to be Godzilla in Camden Town," Serge Pizzorno, the guitarist from the indie guitar band Kasabian, claimed. The event in question was last week's tenth anniversary party for NME.com, which has reached its first decade as a magazine website while many other print titles are still learning to distinguish between message boards and blogs.

Kasabian were the headline act at a party also attended by the likes of Oasis' Noel Gallagher and IPC Ignite!'s new managing director, Eric Fuller.

It was also an evening, as music events often are these days, where copious amounts of branding were on display. Prominent among this was Sony Walkman, which was supporting its sponsorship of the Walkman NME Breaking Bands contest, a national search for a hot new act that involved unsigned UK bands posting their music online at NME.com/newmusic.

The winning band, My Device, played to rather less fanfare than Kasabian, but their presence - and that of Sony - was evidence of a brand linking itself with user- generated content via the likes of NME.com.

Since its launch, NME.com has encouraged such content via message boards, but this is being raised to ever more sophisticated levels and, interestingly, it sees other music-content sites as complementary rather than competitive.

1. Magazine groups' music sites are among the most established. NME.com claims it is the largest UK commercial music website, with 18 million page impressions a month and 1.6 million unique users across the globe. It has had impressive success in the US, where it has become the third most popular music news website.

NME.com's raison d'etre is its news service, which it claims is the most up to date in the world. On this, it hooks services such as album exclusives, user-generated content via MyNME and services such as ticket and CD sales.

Kevin Heeny, the director of digital development at IPC ignite!, says 70 per cent of NME.com's ad revenues come from advertising and sponsorship. The remainder comes from NME ticketing and other merchandising. NME.com's largest advertisers are retailers such as HMV and Virgin, internet service providers and companies such as eBay and Kelkoo, which link with its merchandising operation.

User-generated content is a large growth area for NME.com. "But," Heeny says, "we talk to those guys at places like MySpace. We build MySpace modules into what we do, so, rather than just competing, we are looking at our USPs and working together."

NME's next big project, as well as US joint ventures, is the development of MyNME Radio, which will allow listeners to build their own radio playlists based on their, and other users', tracks.

2. The big battle for content for the likes of NME.com and its Emap rivals such as Q is with large sites such as Yahoo!. Yahoo! Music UK, for instance, is larger in page-impression terms than NME.com. However, Yahoo!'s offering is based almost solely on free music videos, while the music magazine websites tend to be more specialist and news driven. However, Yahoo! is developing more sophisticated services, such as customised radio stations with tracks chosen by the listener.

3. UK commercial radio stations are also well established. Virgin Radio, which last week relaunched its site (www.virginradio.co.uk), is also celebrating a tenth anniversary of sorts. It claims to have been the first UK commercial station to stream radio content online, having launched the service in 1996. The new site has moved on from simply supplying information about Virgin Radio.

James Cridland, the digital media director at Virgin Radio, says: "We've made the new site more of a music site for people to come to regardless of whether they listen to Virgin Radio."

Virgin Radio offers exclusive content such as acoustic sessions and podcasts from Virgin presenters, mixed with user-generated content. Instead of sourcing its own news, for instance, Virgin Radio encourages users to post their own news from fansites and provide links to news stories elsewhere as it aggregates other people's content. "We want to be the first place to come for news about all sorts of artists," Cridland says.

A key source of virginradio.co.uk's revenue is advertisers such as Barclays and bmi, who support on-air activity with web-based promotions.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

ADVERTISERS

- Music sites have become increasingly sophisticated, which is good news for advertisers looking to move beyond banner and other display advertising activity. Sponsorship of user content that then evolves into events is a favourite among current advertisers. Sponsorship of podcasts and microsites is also growing.

- Advertisers are also increasingly using music sites for data capture and other response activity.

- Advertisers may worry that the popularity of music sites will diminish as less specialist offerings grow. However, the evidence is that both sites linked to magazine brands and those linked to radio stations are still growing in popularity.

- As online music offerings become more sophisticated, with higher quality news, streamed music and video offerings, advertisers from beyond the music world are moving into the sector. It's not just the music retailers and record companies that are using sites now.

USERS

- Music websites are more than keen to make their offerings more interactive for users. The creation of personalised "radio stations" is the current big project for many site owners, allowing users in closed environments to share tracks with other listeners.