Owen Van Natta Out at MySpace

Owen Van Natta, the prominent Internet executive brought in to overhaul MySpace, has left after less than a year.

News Corp. (NWS), which owns the social network, has replaced the CEO with his former lieutenants, Mike Jones and Jason Hirschhorn, who have been named co-presidents.

It is Van Natta’s second consecutive short-tenured job. Prior to MySpace, he ran music start-up Project Playlist, where he stayed for less than six months. Van Natta built his reputation at Facebook and Amazon (AMZN).

A  press release spins this as a mutual decision between Van Natta and Jon Miller, the News Corp. executive who joined the company less than a year ago himself to run digital operations. But that’s going to be a difficult story to sell.

For starters, it’s clear that attempts to turn the social network around are taking much longer than expected, as News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch acknowledged last week during the company’s earnings call.

Last fall, News Corp. disclosed that MySpace and the rest of the company’s digital portfolio were coming up short on their end of a $900 million, three-year search deal with Google (GOOG), which meant News Corp. would receive around $100 million less than originally anticipated.

That may be in part because of changes the new MySpace leadership made to the site’s design, which cut down on some of the page views the old site created. But the shortfall was primarily because the MySpace audience has been migrating to other sites, particularly Facebook, for some time.

MySpace executives have been overhauling the site, mainly under the hood, and rolling out a series of incremental changes in recent weeks. These changes aren’t supposed to win back Facebook users–the company has declared that it’s no longer trying to compete with that site as a social network anymore–but are designed to help it hang on to existing users and establish itself as some sort of entertainment hub.

A tough task under any circumstance. But tensions in the corporate suite didn’t make it easier. Miller hired Van Natta, but the CEO didn’t bring in the two executives directly beneath him; both Jones and Hirschhorn were hired by Miller (along with Murdoch, who signed off on both men).

People who have talked to Van Natta say he has been relatively public about his frustrations at the job in recent weeks. Describing Jones and Hirschhorn as happy campers would be a stretch, too.

But whatever finally prompted the move seems to have come relatively quickly: The MySpace and News Corp. insiders I’ve talked to so far seem taken aback by Van Natta’s departure.

(Full disclosure: News Corp. owns Dow Jones, which owns this site.)

Here is the official press release from News Corp.:

Owen Van Natta Steps Down as MySpace CEO; 
Mike Jones and Jason Hirschhorn Elevated to Co-Presidents

Los Angeles, CA, February 10, 2010–News Corporation today announced that Owen Van Natta will step down from his position as MySpace CEO, effective immediately. Mr. Van Natta will be replaced by newly-elevated co-Presidents Mike Jones and Jason Hirschhorn, who will each report to Jon Miller, Chairman and CEO of Digital Media for News Corporation.  All three executives joined MySpace in April 2009, with Mr. Jones and Mr. Hirschhorn previously serving as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Product Officer, respectively.

“Owen took on an incredible challenge in working to refocus and revitalize MySpace, and the business has shown very positive signs recently as a result of his dedicated work,” said Jon Miller, News Corporation’s Chairman and CEO of Digital Media. “However, in talking to Owen about his priorities both personally and professionally going forward, we both agreed that it was best for him to step down at this time. I want to thank Owen for all of his efforts.”

Mr. Miller continued, “Mike and Jason have demonstrated true leadership in their operational and product guidance, respectively, and I have the utmost confidence in both of them to lead MySpace into its next chapter.”

In a joint statement, Mr. Jones and Mr. Hirschhorn noted:

“We joined MySpace last April with very a specific set of goals in mind, and are anxious to continue working together to make those goals a reality. This business is now pointed in the right direction, and we have a great team of employees that will continue to push MySpace closer to its potential as the place where people go to be discovered and to discover great content.”

Mr. Van Natta commented:

“MySpace is an incredibly unique place and we’ve made real gains in terms of product focus and user experience.  I’m proud of the work we’ve all accomplished together and look forward to watching its continued growth.”

Prior to his role as MySpace COO, Mr. Jones founded and operated several online businesses, including Userplane, a leading provider of tools for online communities such as MySpace. Userplane was acquired in 2006 by AOL, where Jones subsequently served as a senior vice president and focused on social media monetization and also pioneered the distribution of widgets and other technology to Web publishers. He also was founder and CEO of Tsavo Media, an online content and search network developing next-generation publishing platforms and technology services.

Since joining MySpace, Mr. Hirschhorn oversaw all aspects of product development, and previously has led both start-up and established online businesses. He was president of Sling Media, Inc.’s Entertainment Group, which created consumer-driven applications and services for the Slingbox device, and was chief digital officer at MTV Networks, where he oversaw the company’s digital media businesses, products and strategies. Hirschhorn joined MTV Networks following the acquisition of his company, Mischief New Media, which provided interactive services to the entertainment industry.

How Badly Will Google Buzz Screw Up Your Gmail In Its Drive To Beat Facebook?

The grass is always greener in the digital world! First Facebook got all schizophrenic with homepate overhauls (and privacy setting catastrophes) in an attempt to be more like Twitter — really, at this point, it’s a bit of a crap shoot what your Facebook page may look like on a daily basis there have been so many overhauls. And now Google apparently wants to be the next Facebook. From the FT:

Google is set to make a fresh attempt to gain a stronger foothold in the booming social networking business on Tuesday as it seeks to counter the growing threat that Facebook poses to some of its core services.

However, earlier Google efforts to establish a presence in social networking have failed to gain much traction and analysts said that the company was still likely to find it difficult to turn the tables on Facebook with its latest plan.

“Anything Google does with Gmail should be seen as a defensive manoeuvre,” said Ray Valdes, an analyst at Gartner….

Google is planning to give Gmail users a way to aggregate the updates of their various contacts on the service, creating a stream of notifications that would echo the similar real-time streams from Facebook and Twitter, according to reports.

Speaking as a person who is completely dependent on her Gmail, one can only hope they don’t mess with it too badly. Because, really, if I wanted to know what my friends were up to I would go to Facebook to find out.

Gmail Goes Social With Google Buzz

How Digital Marketing Helped ‘Avatar’ Break the Box Office

Do you remember August 21, 2009?

Moviegoers in more than 100 IMAX 3-D theaters worldwide watched 16 minutes of footage from a new James Cameron movie. That same day, Ubisoft debuted a trailer for a videogame based on the film, and Mattel unveiled action figures inspired by the film's characters. A day earlier, the teaser for the very same film broke a record on Apple.com after beng streamed more than four million times on its first day.

August 21 was celebrated as "Avatar Day." Today, it should be remembered as the dawn of the most comprehensive digital marketing campaign ever developed to support a film. Below are the details of four key components of the campaign, each of which are represented by important characters and creatures within "Avatar."

The Tree of Souls: Social Media

Avatar Facebook.png

In the film, the Na'vi believe that the Tree of Souls, a place where the souls and voices of their ancestors rest, was the heart of what connected them to each other. This is also a core idea with social networks, which are often built from relationships rooted in our past.

Social networks are frequently tapped for film marketing, and "Avatar" successfully built connections and conversation on Facebook (close to 1.3 million fans), MySpace (close to 800,000 friends) and Twitter (over 25,000 followers). According to Sysomos, a social media analytics firm, "Avatar" was the most talked about film on Twitter in January 2010. Some of those tweets resulted from a "Tweet to Listen" promo that required fans to send a message on Twitter in order to listen to music from the film. "Avatar's" social media strategy also branched out to YouTube (close to 11 million video views), Flickr (over 1 million photo views) and a TypePad blogging community (close to 4,000 members).

The Hometree: Avatar's Website

Avatar website.png

The immensity and visual richness of the Hometree on Pandora reflects what's been cultivated on the film's official website. Visitors have access to more than the standard fare of trailers, images and background materials. The website offers 14 side-scrolling square boxes that showcase many of the digital initiatives that make this movie stand out. Fans have access to the story, character bios, the music, and wallpaper downloads; but they also have opportunities to contribute content and showcase their interest in the film -- including Pandorapedia, a wiki for all things "Avatar," and the previously discussed blogging community (which includes photo caption contests and timeless topics such as "Why Are Avatar Aliens Blue?").

And just as humans destroyed the Hometree in pursuit of self-interest and wealth, the film's homepage had its own destructive moment in mid-August when fans crashed the site while trying to secure free tickets for "Avatar Day."

The Banshee: The AIR Interactive Trailer

Avatar's interactive trailer soars over previous movie trailers thanks to its integration of social media feeds, and 11 points of interaction that provide viewers with one-click access to each character. (Viewers can simply click on a character in the trailer in order to unlock additional content.) The trailer was built using the Adobe AIR platform, which gives developers flexibility. The result is that fans receive a more exciting experience, similar to that offered by Banshee jumping in the film. The trailer is a moving and frequently refreshed gateway to the film, seemingly alive and fluid the moment it begins. The trailer also includes three options to purchase tickets.

Avatar trailer and social media icons - small.png

Hallelujah Mountains: Augmented Reality

In the film, the gravity-defying Hallelujah Mountains challenge perceptions, which is also what augmented reality strives to do by presenting an engaging experience that floats in front of the viewer's eyes. Mattel created "Avatar" toys that buyers could activate and "bring to life" through webcams and special product tags, while Coke Zero produced custom cans that opened up the world of Pandora at AVTR.com.

The end result is that "Avatar" is now the biggest box office movie of all time (not adjusted for inflation). The movie has eclipsed $2 billion in total ticket sales, driven largely by 3-D revenues and international interest. Cameron has once again orchestrated a cinematic milestone.

So did the digital initiatives, awareness drivers and glowing online conversation contribute to this historic success?

The goal of any theatrical movie marketing campaign is to get people to head to the theater, plunk down $10 to $15 and grab a seat for two-plus hours. On that front, the entire campaign has been an inredible success. It all started on August 21, 2009, the day that started the campaign and successfully moved millions of people to experience something new and mesmerizingly blue. Since then, moviegoers have felt compelled to tell their friends to see the film.

As millions flocked to theaters and clumsily put on their 3-D glasses, they helped bring a now-famous Na'vi phrase to life: Oel ngati kameie ("I see you").

Nick Mendoza is the director of digital communications at Zeno Group. He advises consumer, entertainment and web companies on digital strategy, distribution and engagement. He dreamstreams and is the film correspondent for MediaShift. Follow him on Twitter @NickMendoza.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

How to Cram Most of the Web Into One Super Bowl Ad–And Not Sell TVs

Yep, Google did indeed take out its first Super Bowl ad last night–a tweaked version of the “Search Stories” clip it has been showing on the Web for several months.

But Google also got a second promotion during last night’s game, though I’m guessing it didn’t pay for this one. An ad promoting Internet-connected TVs from Vizio featured a battery of viral video stars made famous via Google’s YouTube–without ever mentioning Google (GOOG) or YouTube by name.

The spot does give formal, if very fast, shoutouts to Web services like Facebook, Pandora, Twitter, Vudu, Yahoo (YHOO) and Yahoo’s Flickr. Oh. And Beyoncé.

Swing and a miss, in my humble amateur advertising critic’s opinion.

For one thing, anyone who’s going to recognize the likes of Tay Zonday and the Numma Numma guy knows that the whole “cramming all of YouTube’s stars into one bit” bit has been done by lots of people before, most notably South Park. Everyone else will just wonder who the fat kid and the skinny dude are.

The other problem with this ad is one common to many efforts to sell Internet-connected TVs: It doesn’t explain the most compelling use for these things.

Because you may not want to watch YouTube on your big screen (or to use Twitter or call up Pandora, etc.). But you may very well want to watch streaming movies and TV shows from services like Netflix (NFLX) and Vudu.

You’d have to squint very hard to see that the Vizio spot was showing a clip from “The Hangover,” though. And chances are that almost no one who saw the ad has heard of Vudu (hence its sale talks).

So there’d be no way for anyone to know that Internet-connected TVs make this stuff really easy. Too bad. If you see this stuff demoed in person, it’s really compelling–it gets close to the “500 channels” pitch we used to hear about in the early 90s, in the best possible way.

At some point in the next few years, there will be no need to pitch this, because the majority of new TVs sold will be Internet-connected. In the same way HD is now more or less standard on new sets.

But for now, this stuff is still a novelty. A good way to change this might be with an effective ad.

4 Minute Roundup: Facebook as News Reader; Engadget Comments

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

Here's the latest 4MR audio report from MediaShift. In this week's edition, I look at the rise of Facebook as a place to find news. Hitwise found that Facebook was the #4 referrer of traffic to news sites, after Google, Yahoo, and MSN -- and above Google News. Plus, the tech blog Engadget shut down comments after an influx of trolls, before relenting to open them again. And I ask Just One Question to Google News founder Krishna Bharat, who explains how 9/11 inspired him to create the service.

Check it out:


>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Facebook Largest News Reader? at Hitwise

Facebook Could Become World's Leading News Reader at ReadWriteWeb

Creating Your Personalized News Channel at Facebook blog

Is Facebook, Not Google, the Real Global Newspaper? at The Atlantic

Facebook helps the news industry, but it's no white knight at VentureBeat

We're turning comments off for a bit in Engadget

Comments getting out of hand, Engadget turns them off at AFP

Engadget editor - Why I turned off comments at VentureBeat

Are Blog Comments Worth It? at Web Worker Daily

How Much Blog Would a Blogger Blog If a Blog Chucked Its Comments? at MediaPost

Commenting on Engadget - a human's guide at Engadget

Google News to Publishers - Let's Make Love Not War at PBS MediaShift

Here's a graphical view of the most recent MediaShift survey results. The question was: "What do you think about Apple's iPad?"

ipad survey grab.jpg

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about where you find news online:

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

This episode of 4MR is brought to you by GoDaddy, helping you set up your own website in a snap with domain name registration, web hosting and 24/7 support. Visit GoDaddy to learn more.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».