Cisco will kick off the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by announcing Eos, a hosted-software platform that allows media and entertainment companies to create, manage and grow online communities. Through Eos, Cisco has compiled technology tools and added an easy-to-use interface to make building and customising websites easy. It has also bundled technology into the software that will allow media companies to build interactive websites so fans can connect with musicians, TV shows, movies, or whatever brand a media company wants to promote. Cisco first began looking for ways to help big media companies late in 2006, when it created the Media Solutions business unit. The idea was to develop and market products to digital media content owners. In February last year, the company bought a startup called Five Across, which developed social-networking software. Dan Scheinman, the Cisco executive behind Eos, believes the new software platform addresses one of the biggest problems media companies face today. “The reality is that media is so disrupted by digital technology,” he said. “Fans are looking for ways to connect to their favourite artists or TV shows and they are seeking out communities, but the media companies have been slow to provide this for them. Eos is centered around community and allows fans to participate.” The service provides tools that allow media companies to create blogs, live chats, message boards, rating and ranking systems. Scheinman believes social networking is the most important way for marketers and big media companies to reach consumers. Consumers are using sites such as YouTube and Facebook to share media, such as videos, music and pictures. He also believes media companies can combat illegal copying by offering fans an interactive experience through their own branded websites. “In many ways digital destroys the value proposition for media,” Scheinman said. “Other people can rip off the content and monetise it, aggregate it, and take pennies for it.” “Eos offers the answer to this,” he explained. “If media companies allowed people to interact with the music or the video and do some things it with it, it enhances the experience and makes the brand more powerful. Eos won’t stop piracy entirely. But at the very least it lets the media companies put up a fight by allowing the audience to participate.” Warner Music Group is the first major media company to sign up for Cisco’s Eos service. The company is using the software platform initially to create websites for two artists, Laura Izibor and Sean Paul. Michael Nash, executive vice president of digital strategy and business development for Warner Music Group, agreed with Scheinman about the importance of creating community for the company’s music fans. He said Warner Music has been looking to do just that for several years, but building the technology itself or cobbling together off-the-shelf tools has proven difficult and too costly. “We have tried just about everything out there,” he said. “We eventually realised that we are dependent on technology, but we are not a technology company, so strategic partnerships in terms of using a platform is a very desirable approach.” Nash said that Warner Music first started talking to Cisco about two years ago when the networking company initially conceived of the Media Solutions business unit. And it was Scheinman’s team at Cisco that presented Warner Music with a proposal for Eos that could help the company build these websites. For the past year, the companies have been working closely to fine-tune the Eos tools and service. Nash admitted Warner Music could have partnered with several other companies to build interactive, community-based websites. But he said Cisco’s holistic approach was appealing because it provides a common platform that is easier to manage and much less expensive than building it from scratch. What’s more, it allows the company to focus on its core business, instead of trying to keep up with technology innovations. “We’re a music company,” he said. “We don’t have the resources to make big technology investments and maintain those investments over time. But Cisco is a fantastic partner that has the money to invest in innovation and world-class capabilities.” Win-win situation At first glance, it may seem odd that Cisco, a company that sells hardware to shuttle bits around the internet, would get into the Web 2.0 social-networking business. Even though the company is the largest supplier of networking equipment to large companies throughout the world and powers over two-thirds of the internet with its IP routers, it’s not a software company. And besides its acquisition of WebEx it has little experience offering a managed service of any kind to customers. But the truth is that Cisco sees social networking and the Web 2.0 experience as an important trend in internet usage, which ultimately drives more demand for its traditional info.