With MySpace falling behind Facebook as the world's largest online social network, MySpace tapped a former Facebook executive Friday as its new chief executive.
Owen Van Natta, 39, replaces Chris DeWolfe, a co-founder of MySpace, who stepped down as chief executive Wednesday. News Corp., which owns MySpace, said Van Natta's new role begins immediately.
Van Natta faces the lofty task of reinvigorating MySpace at a time when Facebook is growing at a faster clip and Twitter, the short messaging site, is grabbing scores of headlines and celebrity attention. While MySpace is still the largest social network in the United States, it has only 130 million users worldwide, compared with more than 200 million for Facebook.
Even so, MySpace may be making more money, at least for now. Research firm eMarketer estimates that the company brought in $585 million in U.S. ad revenue last year, nearly three times that of Facebook. A big chunk of that, however, comes from an ad-sharing deal with Google Inc. that expires next year. Neither Beverly Hills, California-based MySpace nor Palo Alto, California-based Facebook discloses how much money they make.
The executive change could be energizing for MySpace, said Charlene Li, an industry analyst and founder of Altimeter Group.
"MySpace has a very interesting product and a loyal user base," Li said. But from a technology perspective, they've been stagnant, she added.
Facebook, meanwhile, continues to redesign and update the site, even if doing so often leads to user rumblings.
"Owen is coming from Facebook and the history they have with being much more technologically innovative than MySpace," Li said. Shaking things up, she added, is the "whole purpose of a change in management."
At Facebook, Van Natta was chief operating officer and helped negotiate a $240 million investment from Microsoft Corp. that valued the company at $15 billion — though it later emerged that Facebook placed its value well below that.
With Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg ensconced as the site's CEO, Van Natta left in February 2008 in hopes of landing the top job at another company. Later in the year he became CEO of Playlist.com, a Palo Alto, California-based online music company.
On Friday, Playlist named John Sykes, a board member, as the company's CEO and said Van Natta will be adviser to the company. Sykes is a co-founder of MTV and has been president of VH1.
MySpace's other co-founder, Tom Anderson, had been president of the company and has been in talks about taking on a new role. News Corp. did not give an update on that Friday. Van Natta will report to Jonathan Miller, News Corp.'s chief digital officer, who was named to the post April 1.
Facebook, where Van Natta spend about three years as chief operating officer and then as chief revenue officer, declined to comment on the appointment.