Cisco charts new path with Eos media platform

Eos aggregates anonymous data from multiple sites, enabling media companies to build targeted Web sites that merge content delivery with social networking

It's well-known that Cisco has been branching out from its core business of selling routers and switches, but in an open-plan office overlooking San Francisco's up-and-coming Mission Bay district, the networking monolith is venturing into areas that are ambitious even for one of technology's most aggressive acquisition machines.

A group that includes the assets of three acquired startups is in charge of a far-reaching product that puts the Cisco brand on social networking, Web hosting, content delivery and even aggregation of data about Web users' activity.

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The Eos media platform, developed by the Cisco Media Solutions Group and introduced at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January, is a tool for media companies to build targeted Web sites for all their entertainment properties, merging content delivery with social networking. Company officials gave more details about the cloud-based service and its innovative business model at a media event at the San Francisco offices on Wednesday. Eos is designed to help media companies better leverage the movies, TV shows, and musical artists they represent to attract fans and revenue.

Sites created with Eos can tap into content from anywhere across a large media company, according to Cisco. The sites can be customized to the various musical artists, TV shows, or movies, and include a wide range of Cisco-supplied components, such as forums, chat, and RSS feeds, as well as third-party elements integrated via APIs.

Content hosted on Eos can be syndicated to existing social-networking sites such as Facebook, but media companies can get even more value out of it by hosting social networking on their own Eos-based sites, said Dan Scheinman, senior vice president and general manager of the Cisco Media Solutions Group. If well-managed, those sites can create communities around content that keep fans coming back, he said.

The content owners can moderate the user activity on each site or outsource that function to a third party, while applying different standards to different sites depending on the type of artist or property represented there. That could make potential advertisers feel safer appearing on a site because they know what may show up alongside their brands, according to Scheinman.

Other vendors offer pieces of what Eos offers, but putting those together involves a capital investment that media companies don't want to make if they can get the same results from a cloud service, Cisco and others say.

What Cisco is selling is primarily the tools to deliver promotional content and generate fan excitement. But the company said it's also offering data that could be invaluable to its clients. By analyzing activity on all the sites using Eos, Cisco can detect patterns that show, for example, that many fans of one musical artist are also likely to be fans of a particular TV show, said Scott Brown, manager of marketing strategy at Cisco. It can do so even with anonymous information, and won't share personal data about individual users, he said.

This kind of information can make it easier for media companies to sell advertising, because it can tell advertisers more about the audience, according to Cisco. This is a large part of the business model for Eos. Cisco will get a licensing fee for the hosted software but also collect a portion of the revenue generated by the content, Brown said. The formula will differ among customers.

Cisco announced one customer at its CES launch, Warner Music, which is still the company's only publicly named account. On Wednesday, it showed off the same two Eos-hosted sites it highlighted at CES, for reggae artist Sean Paul and singer Laura Izibor. The company expects to disclose more customers in the near future, Brown said. The success of Eos will depend largely on a critical mass of media companies using it, because a larger number of Eos-based sites means a bigger set of consumer data.

But Cisco won't do much to open the site up to the global market until late next year. Today, the administrator's interface for Eos is only in English, and site content can only be in Roman-character languages. In late 2010, the company plans to add more interface languages and make it possible to use other character sets on Eos-based pages.

Cisco may be well-positioned to deliver this type of platform, said Gartner analyst Andrew Frank.

"The production and delivery of online video is a perfect cloud system because it is so elastic," Frank said. Fans flock to media sites when new movies or albums are released, and it would cost media companies a lot of money to build enough capacity ahead of time to handle those bursts of activity, he said. Large media companies may be attracted to Cisco for this kind of service because of the company's size and its focus on both video and cloud computing, he said.

The measure of success for Eos will be the revenue that flows to media companies that use Eos, Cisco says. But the company wants to do more than just offer a better way to deliver content.

"What we're trying to do here ... is to do something ambitious," Scheinman said. Just as Turner Broadcasting System went beyond existing forms of media to launch 24-hour cable news with CNN in 1980, Cisco wants to find and support a new media format that's suited to the Internet, Scheinman said.

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