Friendster Recruits a CEO From Network TV

Cementing its commitment to an ad-supported business model, Friendster nabbed Scott Sassa, former president of NBC Entertainment, to fill its chief executive post.

The social networking company expressed optimism that Sassa would strengthen its fledgling ad sales operation and reverse the company’s shrinking traffic numbers. Friendster traffic peaked at 1.8 million hits during October 2003, and is now down to about a million hits a month, according to comScore Networks.

“Over the past several months, Friendster has been building the foundation for a strong advertising model, and we believe Scott will be instrumental in helping the company develop a great business,” said Friendster board member, investor and interim CEO Tim Koogle, who was formerly CEO at Yahoo.

Sassa held several senior positions with NBC between 1997 and 2003, including a three-year stint as president of NBC West Coast, before which he oversaw all of NBC’s entertainment programming. He also spent nine years at Turner Broadcasting System, launching TNT, Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies and four other networks.

The social networking craze began approximately a year ago, and since then the various players have struggled to find viable business models. The heads of social networks, including Friendster, MyWay, ZeroDegrees and Tickle, have suggested they would commit to an advertising-based model. Today’s appointment of a network television executive affirms that direction, at least for Friendster.

It’s anybody’s guess whether Friendster will try to make its way as an independent business or seek a buyer as several of its competitors have. Monster Worldwide last month bought social network and quiz aggregator Tickle Inc. in a cash and stock deal valued at over $90 million; in March, InterActiveCorp snatched up ZeroDegrees.

Last fall, at the height of its popularity, Friendster reportedly turned down a $30 million offer from Google, opting instead to rely on multi-million dollar investments from venture capital firms. Google has since launched its own social network, Orkut.

Friendster founder Jonathan Abrams will remain the company’s chairman.

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