Facebook vet Owen Van Natta has stepped down as MySpace CEO with less than a year under his belt. It’s a bit of a shock because Van Natta seemed to be in the middle of a major makeover, switching MySpace from lagging social network into a social entertainment hub through acquisitions such as iLike and Imeem.
But last week MySpace reported a loss of $32 million in the quarter. The entire digital category of parent News Corp did a $73 million dip, which could have only made old man Murdoch all the more cantankerous.
A TechCrunch interview with Van Natta from the Davos World Economic Forum two weeks ago is a bit chilling — he gives no sign that he’s thinking of leaving and has vision aplenty for the site. Chief Operating Officer Mike Jones and Chief Product Officer Jason Hirschhorn — who came in with Van Natta in April 2009 as part of an executive shakeup — have been bumped up to co-presidents. Sources told TechCrunch that Van Natta wanted Hirschorn gone and had been feuding with News Corp. digital chief Jon Miller.
But let’s read between the lines: the shakeup has been shook up, and Van Natta has been pegged the scapegoat for a crap quarter. It’s kind of sad and shortsighted, really, because site re-invention is not something that happens overnight. A good deal of MySpace’s revenue loss comes from slimming down and excising the ads and excess pages that have been driving users away.
Alas, my violin for Owen is pretty tiny. Sorry, buddy, this kind of stuff happens when you get in bed with News Corp. Maybe you and Cofounder Chris DeWolfe, who also had an unceremonious exit after being hailed as the golden boy, can catch a drink and console each other. The other founder, Tom Anderson (he was my first friend!), is apparently still at MySpace — at least one captain must go down with the ship.