MySpace: coming soon to Japan?

Ian Rowley

At a speech in Tokyo today News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch laid out his views on the economic and political challenges facing Japan and Asia in the 21st Century. In a thirty minute address, he praised Japan's recovery, championed measures to control global warming, and called for the U.S. to host a summit in Hawaii where Japan and China could work out their differences. Worthy stuff, no doubt, but the media mogul's audience seemed most interested in news that News Corp-owned MySpace is about to launch in Japan.

On Monday, both the Nihon Keizai, Japan's biggest business daily, and the Kyodo newswire, reported that News Corp and telecom giant Softbank plan to set up a 50-50 joint venture to operate a Japanese language version of the smash site. Without naming sources, the reports claimed Softbank chief Masayoshi Son and Murdoch will meet soon and hammer out an agreement. The service will be for PCs but, making use of Softbank's mobile know-how, will later become compatible with cell phones. The venture is likely to be capitalized at about 1 billion yen ($85 million). Murdoch didn't deny the claims. Calling Son an "old friend"--the two companies were once involved in Sky Perfect, a Japanese cable service--he acknowledged he hoped to meet with the Softbank chief. Murdoch also hinted that Japan wouldn't be MySpace's only port of call in Asia. "Here and in other Asian countries, we're certainly open to partnerships," he said.

Still, it's not at all certain MySpace can match its global success in Japan. For one thing, while MySpace has 125 million registered users worldwide, Japan has more bloggers per head of population than the U.S. and numerous social networking sites. The biggest is Mixi, which listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in September, and has six million registered users. Softbank is also involved in the social networking space through group firm Yahoo Japan, although it doesn't directly operate any sites. There's also evidence that global web players that failed to make it in Japan. The ebay auction site, for instance, couldn't crack Japan. Nevertheless, mixi investors didn't take well to the news. In Tokyo trading Monday its stock was down 7.5%.

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