MySpace (NYSE: NWS) pulled up the curtain a little this week, letting in some light on a makeover still very much in progress and marking a debut of sorts for Co-Presidents Mike Jones and Jason Hirschhorn as a team. By walking reporters through their road map, the two hope to move the story from “oh woe is MySpace” to “look at MySpace go.” It isn’t going to be easy and it isn’t going to be fast. MySpace’s problems were legendary before Jones and Hirschhorn arrived last year as part of a turn-around triumvirate — and even more so with the hasty departure of Owen Van Natta, giving the social network the dubious distinction of losing two CEOs in less than a year.
We spoke at length by phone Tuesday. One image to shed: the notion of MySpace as entertainment portal, something Hirschhorn says was poorly communicated by the company. Instead, think of MySpace as a social entertainment experience. “There are other sites on the internet that are big and don’t have permission to be social,” he explains. More from our conversation below:
Hirschhorn, Jones and Van Natta were brought in last spring to replace MySpace’s founding execs CEO Chris DeWolfe and Tom Andersen. The site’s meteoric rise and efforts to maintain, then to regain growth added to a maze of products. Their mission was nothing short of remaking the structure inside and out, stabilizing the business and finding a way to help MySpace fulfill its promise despite being eclipsed as a social network and a business by Facebook. All with an insistent chorus that MySpace’s time has come and gone. Despite the drama around their arrival and Van Nata’s own departure, not to mention all the vignettes in between, Jones and Hirschhorn insist they’ve kept their focus on remaking the site with users in mind. They’ve cut out areas that made no sense to them, things like mom and car verticals, classifieds and jobs, stripping out much of anything that looked like a generic portal. The exception is e-mail, which turns out to be a major connective tissue for MySpace. They’re also increasing the emphasis on “broadcasting” — using MySpace to share and promote creative efforts like music, which gave the site its start, indie films, comedians and more.
What, me worry?: Analysts and other outsiders — even colleagues at News Corp. — may be stressing over growth and revenue. Those aren’t the focus right now, insist Hirschhorn and Jones, at least not the way these others might expect. (“I’m really happy we have so many people concerned about our future,” Jones says wryly.) “The pair wants to keep the core users MySpace already has and increase their engagement, while converting the “hundreds of thousands” signing up now into regular users. By mining MySpace’s rich data, they’ve been able to spot patterns that suggest different ways to accomplish that for different users — and they’ve decided who they don’t need to cater to. The core demographic is 13-34, representing 56 percent of all uniques, according to *comScore*; the sweet spot is 18-24. Eighty-four percent of all traffic on the site comes from that core.
As for other MySpace users, explains Jones, “In certain cases if a user ages out, that’s ok. I don