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Van Natta out at MySpace

After just eight months, Owen Van Natta is stepping down as CEO of News Corp.’s MySpace. He’ll be replaced by newly-elevated co-presidents Mike Jones and Jason Hirschhorn, who will each report to Jon Miller, chairman and CEO of News Corp.’s digital media. Jones, who worked with Miller at AOL, and Hirschhorn, formerly president of Sling Media, previously were the company’s COO and chief product officer, respectively.

The tech blogs seem to still be digesting this announcement, but no one seems to be buying the notion that Van Natta went willingly.

News Corp. acquired MySpace as part of Intermix in July 2005 for $580 million in cash. At the time, MySpace was the hottest social-networking site on the Net, having just eclipsed Friendster. Today, both portals have been overshadowed by Facebook, Van Natta’s alma mater. News Corp. has been working hard to reinvent MySpace, but Facebook is on a roll, improving its traffic by 105% in 2009 and finishing the year as the number-one global social- networking site with 207 million unique visitors in December, according to Nielsen. News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch said in a recent conference call that the company has failed to turn MySpace around at a pace Murdoch would prefer.

“And there’s MySpace, but it’s not yet where we want it,” Murdoch said in a conference call about News Corp.’s quarterly financial results on Feb. 2. “MySpace remains one of the world’s top web destinations and during the past quarter, we started to see signs of traffic stabilization, as its mission was [carried upon]. We believe the stability points to progress, the new management team has made in repositioning MySpace as the prime place where people share thoughts and ideas about music, entertainment and other popular content.”

Van Natta, Jones and Hirschhorn all were brought in to return MySpace to its previous leadership position, which, per Murdoch, the site is trying to do by becoming more focused on entertainment and music. Van Natta was chief revenue officer and VP, operations, at Facebook, but left because he wanted to be CEO of a consumer Web site, he told AllThingsD in Feb. 2008.

TechCrunch reports that Van Natta had a conflict with Miller and also wanted to terminate Hirschhorn. TechCrunch also reports that in very recent interviews, Van Natta gave no indication that he planned to be departing MySpace.