MySpace, like all nightclubs past their prime, has hit its expiration date. The recent exit of CEO Owen Van Natta is a sign of a bigger problem: News Corp’s disinterest in digital media. Rupert Murdoch has moved on to the latest shiny shiny: tablets & eReaders.

It’s not a good idea to speak ill of the dead. It is OK, however, to speak the truth, however harsh it might seem, about the living dead.

Rupert Murdoch’s $580 million MySpace purchase has outlived not only its utility, but has also finally hit its expiration date. That last step came with the announcement this afternoon that Owen Van Natta was stepping down as chief executive of the company.  This was nine months after he joined the Los Angeles-based venture. It’s circling the drains, if you ask me.

Is anyone surprised that Van Natta left? I’m not. Rupert Murdoch had put him in charge. Then Jon Miller, the head of News Corp.’s digital operations, brought in two more guys -– Mike Jones and Jason Hirschhorn. I think you can read between the lines here. You have three guys with a strong emphasis on operations –- sort of like three short-stops on the same baseball team.

When the trio came together, I asked the question, Can Internet’s Free Agents Save MySpace? My take was simple:

News Corp is counting on the equivalent of three Internet free agents to replace Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson and revive MySpace, the big but not so bountiful social network. The three free agents are CEO Owen Van Natta (former COO of Facebook), COO Mike Jones (founder and CEO of Userplane) and Chief Product Officer Jason Hirschhorn (former president of SlingMedia.) These three men are certainly capable, but they are on a mission impossible. I think MySpace Music is a nice niche opportunity — how big of one remains to be seen. For the three free agents — good luck guys! You are really going to need it.

From what I gather, there were conflicts between Van Natta and his boss, Miller. It was clear that someone had to go and it wasn’t going to be Miller, mostly because Murdoch wasn’t around to save Van Natta. This kind of corporate infighting is a sign of a bigger malaise. In many ways, News Corp and Murdoch have lost any and all interest in the web. The fire sales of Photobucket and Rotten Tomatoes are clear indicators that any and every digital property is up for sale. I bet if you showed up with a decent offer for, say, IGN or MySpace, News Corp would be willing to make a deal.

I don’t blame them. With “Avatar” bringing in more revenues than all their digital properties put together, COO Chase Carey, I am told, doesn’t care much for these headache businesses. News Corp’s other businesses, such as its cable networks, are making a decent amount of money as well. The web doesn’t hold much attraction for Rupert Murdoch, who is now enamored with e-readers and tablets.

Tablets, according to those in the know, are being viewed as saviors for News Corp.’s core business: news and information. He thinks that since devices are not that useful without his content, he eventually wins because he will get people to win pay for his content. “Content is not just king, it is the emperor of all things electronic!” he recently said. But as our Kevin Kelleher essentially summed up in discussing Murdoch and News Corp’s business strategy in this post over the weekend, “Murdoch is right that those devices are lifeless without content, but he neglects to mention that it’s a symbiotic relationship.”

Kevin also noted that Murdoch, and every large media company, need to think like startups. Unfortunately that is no longer in the DNA that defines Murdoch. If he thought like a startup, instead of hiring three managers, the company would have hired a strong chief technology officer, who had the vision and the guts to essentially take the living corpse of a social network and send a shock through its system. They needed someone who could think of and build a Spotify based on MySpace Music!

What the company needed was radical transformation. But what it got was infighting, politicking and constant contraction.  At the time Van Natta, Jones and Hirschhorn joined the company it had two things going for it -– the audience and the social graph. There was a time when celebrities used MySpace to stay in touch with their fans. Now they’re all using Twitter.

The audience has started to fritter away, moving to better, more current social environments such as Facebook and Twitter. As for the social graph, I wonder if MySpace really had one. I wouldn’t be surprised if more executives, including those from recently acquired startups such as imeem and iLike, left for greener and more viable pastures.

As my friend Pip Coburn has told me many times, turnarounds never really turn. They usually run aground. Time for Myspace N.O!

* Photo of Rupert Murdoch courtesy of World Economic Forum via Flickr.

* Photo of Owen Van Natta by JD Lassica via Flickr

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  1. There’s a vast, vast, (scary vast) network of niche groups on MySpace that I spent some time clicking-through a few weekends ago, many of these seem to be similar to the (often sex-related) yahoo groups of 5-10 years ago. These groups are relatively active, and some of the users are on MySpace ALL THE FREAKIN TIME. For most of us here, MySpace may be dead, however, there’s still alot of people who use it, actively, apparently.

  2. The Obituary was written quite a while ago.

  3. MySpace has long been dead. Check out the book “wired for thought” which walked through and predicted MySpace’s demise even before Facebook was hot. Myspace’s problem was that it got too large.

    1. (Sorry I hit submit too soon). MySpace’s problem (counterintuitively) is that it got too large, not that it is now shrinking. At the size and structure that Myspace once was, it was impossible to use or get value from.

      This is a classic network effect. When something gets too big, it always blows up.

    2. Then when will Facebook blow?

      1. Good question…
        I’d suggest either (a) when FB changes its layout so radically that people desert it, rather than moan about it on numerous “Bring back the old FB” groups, or (b) people get bored of playing FarmVille / Mafia Wars…

      2. Facebook is already slightly staggering and pretty much ready to drop any day now. It too like MySpace got too big and it’s day is coming. FB is planning to go public within the next year which may be good news for the investor, but for the user all it means is that it is on the same path to becoming as bloated and as useless as MySpace was. Sarah speaks the truth ‘When something gets too big, it always blows up.’ I will also add that News Corp. dropped the ball back in 2007-08 when they failed to upgrade and make the improvements to MySpace so they could compete with FB. One final thing I would like to say to Twitter is….try to take a cue from the failures that came before you. Just because you CAN become big and bloated….doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

      3. Twitter founders think like the Ramones. Simple stripped down three chords rock and roll, forever.

        They won’t sell out. I still believe.

      4. I dont’t think Facebook will blow. I think it will become more like a sister (don’t ask why facebook is feminine …i don’t know) from Google.

        Facebook has tools insite that blow my mind. FB could be a twitter Killer, RSS Reader Killer and MSN Killer.

        And FB hasn’t yet tapes out the full potential. What if they integrate VoIP or Business Groups with projekt management tools, document upload and online confernce tools.

        FB also has a goog advertising system. Because of that they earn a lot money which they can pu into research. Twitter doesn’t have this kind of cashflow.

        …you see realy like facebook.

      5. Just wait a few months – one suprising new player is going to appear on social-web market. It will be really sth new!

        See you!

  4. Myspace always had the “scent” of GeoCities, and it managed to go through its life-cycle in a fraction of the time.

  5. I agree with Sarah and Anthony. The writing was a on the wall a long time ago. I think everyone could agree that the technology in facebook was far superior to that of myspace even from the begining. Like Sarah said, they got way too big and the barrage of ads which slowed the site down just became too much to deal with, which by and large led to the mass exodus. They had a good run, but they put the ads before the user experience.

  6. Dear Rupert Murdoch,

    There is nothing wrong with the machine, it has actually gotten better from what Tom built. The user’s still love it yet most are clueless to what’s going on. Just get it over with, turn Myspace into a real-time internet version of American Idol, for every single one of it’s believe they can be artists. Offer a cash prize for real-time tournaments. Go global with it, let’s see who is the first Internet Diva. Cough it up for a few years, I’ll even throw in the marketing with http://firstinternetdiva.com. When it’s feasible to have the “Myspace channel”, we’ll do live tournaments right from our living room. And while your earning eyeballs from all that bandwidth, monetize it by becoming the next-gen record company.

    Once it’s done, fire the guy who helped build it, he’ll have other internet to build anyway.

    Jason Nadaf

  7. I think MySpace squandered a perfect opportunity to regain some of its “mojo”. As we all know in this business, its all about the sizzle factor. If you have no real compelling story to tell, then you die a slow death. MySpace had the perfect opportunity to be a leader in the digital music space, with large userbase and all the bands and artists on their network, but they chose to use “record label” like tactics in trying to “corporatize” their music strategy. Social networks are like starving bands, as long as you stay hungry, you keep your creative focus and write killer songs. Once you make it big, its over. I agree that a CTO/tech person would have been a better choice to lead the charge. Van Netta is a solid citizen who should have been given greater freedom to pick his lieutenants. Now what?

  8. Well, Om, I won’t dispute you on how poorly this reflects on News Corp’s management of its digital assets. But, if you check the most recent comscore, MySpace has grown 2 months in a row, and is back up to 120MM users worldwide. That may not sound huge compared with Facebook’s 350MM, but it is still 2X twitter’s audience, and blows almost any other site out of the water. We in Silicon Valley tend to think that when something is not hockey-sticking anymore than it is dead. That is not true. If MySpace lost 1MM users a month it would take 10 years to disappear. That still gives them some time to figure out what to do. Do they have the right people in house to do it? That is another question…

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  10. I have a gut feeling that MySpace is poised for a comeback. For one thing, my connections on Facebook -> i know them in real life. Facebook has always been a reflection of a person’s real social ‘graph’ (are they still using that term). On MySpace, it was far more intuitive to find new people with shared interests for whatever purpose, and easier to separate this profile(s) from your real life. There’s something very scary about how deeply embedded Facebook has found itself in the real lives of individuals, where there is still that vibe (albeit false) sense of anonymity at MySpace.

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