After Losing MySpace's Civil War, Ousted CEO Drowns His Sorrows
The struggle for MySpace's future pitted East against West and North against South. Silicon Valley lost; Los Angeles and New York won. And all fired CEO Owen Van Natta could do was smile, shrug and crack open some cold ones.
That's our visual, at least, of the impromptu shindig a source close to Van Natta said he threw with a handful of MySpace employees "just outside Lost Angeles" last night, after he learned that Rupert Murdoch's digital lieutenant Jonathan Miller had shitcanned him. Having struggled with two underlings for months, Van Natta was apparently relieved that the mounting pressure had finally been released.
Kara Swisher of All Things D breaks down the internal ruptures at length here. Basically, Van Natta was hired from Facebook for his experience building social networks, but had to content with at least two other News Corp. executives on every decision. That's a lot of head-butting.
And much of it, our well-placed source adds, took place between warring factions in San Francisco and Los Angeles, two California power centers whose different cultures have long split MySpace. The techies in the north historically tended to favor growth via better software and technology — the sort of strategy Facebook used to defeat MySpace in the war for users — and the southern sensibility leaned toward content and a traditional media strategy to growth. Given that Hirshorn and Jones were both seasoned tech execs, at Sling Media and AOL respectively, it's not clear whether the sort of division was at work.
But there's no denying there was friction: Van Natta wanted to beef up MySpace's San Francisco tech center, MySpace COO Mike Jones wanted to rely on existing tech staff in LA. Van Natta was a big backer of MySpace's purchase of music-recommendation software iLike for $20 million; Jones was steadfastly opposed.
Van Natta very much wanted to fire Jones, said our source. Meanwhile, he was also ready to let disgruntled Chief Product Officer Jason Hirshorn walk. Hirshorn, down in LA with Jones, had been threatening to quit for months, we're told, and Van Natta had tried to get him to stay before giving up.
But News Corp. digital chief Jonathan Miller, based in New York, wasn't about to lose the two leaders he'd installed under Van Natta. News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch had a hand in their hiring, according to Swisher, so Miller must have been especially eager to keep them on board.
"This was a power struggle and Owen lost," said our source. That much is now obvious, but it came as a "very big surprise" to Van Natta that he did not prevail, we're told.
At least now the Amazon.com and Facebook vet can shop his services elsewhere. And at least MySpace will now have only two leaders instead of three. Only time will tell if living in the same city makes Jones and Hirshorn's power-sharing arrangement more durable than the one they had with Van Natta.
Pic of Van Natta at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month, via Getty Images