What Does a Deleted Blog Post Tell Us About NBC's Social Networking Strategy?

We’ve said this before – it’s always the deleted blog posts that get the most attention. In this case it’s a blog post by Sab Kanaujia, VP of Digital Innovation at NBC Digital Media. On December 26, 2006 he wrote a long post on his blog outlining NBC’s vision for social networking. Sometime After January 9 the post was removed, although a cached version is here (and a copy of the text is below).

NBC is clearly trying to find their direction in the social networking space, and they need to make their move soon. They almost acquired Tribe last year, although the deal eventually fell through, apparently over scaling issues.

Kanaujia’s post was surprisingly (and refreshingly) blunt. He says “We know we’re already late” and “Instead of buying an existing social networking destination…the decision was made to internally build the platform grounds up.”

The key strategic decision they made, suggests Kanaujia, was to have a distributed social network instead of one large central property. He says they will build “official communities/fan sites around all our TV shows and movies” for example, and “the current valuations…[of large social networks] do not provide an attractive cost/benefit proposition for ownership.”

Whether this is still their strategy (it’s only been a few weeks since it was originally posted) or they’ve changed it isn’t clear, nor is the reason Kanaujia chose to delete the post. Perhaps they just made a decision that having their go forward social networking strategy out there for the world to see wasn’t good for competitive reasons. Or perhaps they finally acquired another social network, something Kanaujia discusses in the last paragraph of the post. Either way, he just guaranteed that far more people will now read the post than if he just left it up on his blog.

The full text of the blog post is below.

NBC Universal’s approach on social networking

It won’t surprise anyone that my team at NBC Universal Digital Media is currently leading a major social networking initiative. I guess every online media firm is doing something in this area. We know we’re already late. But unlike Fox, our approach has been different.

Instead of buying an existing social networking destination (Digital Media evaluated some candidates back in the summer before I joined the team), the decision was made to internally build the platform grounds up – we do have a few 3rd party partners to give us a jump start. The decision not to buy was mainly due to integration challenges and the inability of most of 3rd party social networking destinations to scale, a key aspect for a large media firm like ours.

Social networking became a platform long back (it started as a product), in which several products can be plugged in to enhance the overall functionality and user experience.

NBCU is building a core social networking platform that will provide various tools and functionality on all our major properties to enable users to self-express and find, interact and share with other like-minded users. We’re not launching separate stand-alone destination(s), ala MySpace, Facebook, etc. We’ll have the first launch on one of our biggest properties early next year, and then roll-out on all remaining major properties (over 12) in a phased manner before the end of Q3.

The underlying communities and how to make/keep them vibrant on all NBCU properties will be our primary focus. Creating official communities/fan sites around all our TV shows and movies will be part of it. There is no reason why users should go to/create The Office community on MySpace when NBCU has the competitive advantage and the ability to provide a differentiated experience on NBC.com (e.g., get cast members involved, exclusive content, etc). We’ll also work on creatively linking 3rd party communities for NBCU shows/movies to our official communities.

Recently I had an interesting lunch conversation with a GP of a major VC firm. He argued that instead of building social networking features on existing properties, it’s more important for NBCU, and any other major content firm, to own a highly popular, stand alone social networking destination from distribution perspective. I do not disagree with the distribution/promotion potential of highly popular social networking destinations, both in the U.S. and globally, and NBCU is already leveraging these channels. The current valuations, however, do not provide an attractive cost/benefit proposition for ownership. It’s not surprising that my lunch partner is also pitching NBCU to acquire their social networking portfolio firm.