Hard to See Improvements at MySpace as CEO Van Natta Exits

Owen Van Natta is out as MySpace’s CEO. The former COO of Facebook and CEO of Project Playlist was hired by Rupert Murdoch less than a year ago to lead a revitalization of the once-towering property. His departure follows eight months of cost cutting and incremental changes, but few decisive measures to reposition MySpace as an entertainment portal – as company execs have said they hope to do.

van-natta.jpg The job-hopping exec will be replaced by COO Mike Jones and product development lead Jason Hirschhorn, who were both hired the same month Van Natta came aboard. They’ll serve as co-presidents, reporting to Jon Miller, News Corp.’s CEO of digital media.

In a joint statement, Jones and Hirschhorn said MySpace is now pointed in the right direction. “We joined MySpace last April with a very specific set of goals in mind, and are anxious to continue working together to make those goals a reality,” they said.

During his tenure, Van Natta led a big cost cutting initiative that included the layoffs of some 30 percent of employees and the closure of overseas offices.

In August MySpace also began working with Media Link and its President Wenda Harris Millard, who was charged with oversight of MySpace advertising sales. Under her guidance the company appeared to focus more narrowly on the entertainment industry, in recognition of its continued popularity as a way for bands to host music and promote live shows to fans. Earlier this month MySpace promoted entertainment category vet Shari Friedman to oversee all sales for its crucial Western region.

And just two days ago MySpace announced its first trial of in-stream audio advertising. Through a relationship with TargetSpot, it began testing :30 audio ads after songs featured on profile pages, on album pages, and on playlist pages.

Yet none of these developments has slowed MySpace’s steady revenue and audience declines. In each of the last two quarters, News Corp. reported a sharp drop in search and digital ad revenues at its digital unit – which consists mainly of MySpace.

Two months ago, research firm eMarketer projected Facebook would surpass MySpace in ad revenue sooner than expected. It predicted MySpace’s annual ad revenue would decline 21 percent, from $490 million in 2009 to $385 million in 2010. Meanwhile, it estimated worldwide spending on Facebook would jump 39 percent, from $435 million in 2009 to $605 million this year.

Kate Kaye and Jack Marshall contributed.

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