YouthStream Acquisition Boosts Database of Student Members

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YouthStream Media Networks' $125 million acquisition this week of sixdegrees inc. adds 3 million registered members to its target audience of young adults.

The deal also gives YouthStream promotional opportunities with News Corp., New York, which had been the largest investor in sixdegrees prior to the acquisition. YouthStream, New York, will be able to promote itself and sixdegrees on Fox media properties owned by News Corp. and will have access to content from Fox Sports and Fox News.

Sixdegrees is a 3-year-old site based on the concept that everybody is connected by no more than six degrees of separation. Site members can try to establish degrees of separation with celebrities or chat in a variety of groups, including Arts & Literature and Home, Family & Travel.

It has spent only $150,000 on member promotion, relying heavily on word-of-mouth and viral marketing to help acquire members. According to Bill Townsend, vice president of corporate strategy at YouthStream, nearly 1.2 million of sixdegrees' registered members are college students.

Early marketing plans call for some TV spots to start running at the end of the first quarter next year, Townsend said.

YouthStream will add even more college-age members to its dastabase with the merger of CommonPlaces, parent company of, and Network Event Theater, parent company of YouthStream. The merger is expected to be completed next month. targets college students with information on topics including scholarships, finances, selecting a major and music. Townsend said he could not disclose the number of members until the merger is completed. He added that it is likely mybytes and sixdegrees eventually would become one site, but he offered no timetable.

YouthStream began an e-mail marketing campaign this month to members of and sixdegrees informing them about the acquisition and the benefits it will provide.

While YouthStream clearly has built a sizable database of college-age students, one of YouthStream's main competitors, CollegeClub, San Diego, said that the number of registered users is not as important as the activity and number of unique visitors a site continually sees. CollegeClub has 1.5 million registered members.

"A more relevant number than registered members are traffic metrics that represent current site activity such as page views and unique visitors," said Monte Brem, vice president of corporate development at CollegeClub, which acquired College Student, Austin, TX, three weeks ago. "Unique visitors and page views tells you what is going on at a site and what people are doing while they are there."

CollegeClub considered buying sixdegrees, but decided not to based on the numbers it received from PC Data Online, Reston, VA, which tracks unique visitors and usage of various sites.

According to PC Data Online, the number of unique members visiting sixdegrees decreased from 617,000 in August to 344,000 in September and 340,000 in November.

"Between August and September, if you are a college site or have college-aged members, your numbers should be going up and not down," Brem said.

So how relevant is the database that YouthStream has just acquired and what about the decreasing number of unique visitors?

"We are not a college site," said Harlan Peltz, CEO of YouthStream. "We are a young adult site with our core focus around the college market. About 40 percent of the sixdegrees database is college students and the majority of the rest of it is either pre-college or post-college students, and these are the people most interested in networking."

As for the numbers provided by PC Data Online, Peltz said they are wrong. He acknowledged that the number of unique visitors at sixdegrees has declined, but he attributed that to a cutback in marketing during recent technical upgrades to the site.

Peltz said he had accurate numbers that refute the ones reported by PC Data Online, but would not be able to disclose them until the merger of CommonPlaces and Network Event Theater was final.

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