Sources say Van Natta's (above) differences with News Corp digital media chief Jon Miller culminated in his departure. Image Credit: Bloomberg News

Los Angeles : In the latest blow to what was once the jewel of News Corp's digital empire, MySpace Chief Executive Owen Van Natta unexpectedly exited Wednesday after less than 10 months on the job.

Van Natta's departure comes as the media conglomerate struggles to reshape MySpace, a former giant in social networking that has been overtaken by Facebook and confronts new challengers such as Twitter.

MySpace's rapid decline also illustrates the perils of placing big bets on digital media, where websites can quickly rise and fall by the mouse clicks of fickle users.

Now Rupert Murdoch's News Corp hopes to convert MySpace into a portal that guides users to content such as movies, music, TV shows and games, distancing itself from its origins in which people created web pages to share details of their lives. It remains to be seen whether the site can convince its users to think of it in a fundamentally different way.

News Corp acquired the Beverly Hills-based web site five years ago in a deal valued at $580 million (Dh2.13 billion) as part of a $1.5-billion-plus digital media buying binge that was intended to transform the traditional media company for the 21st century. After a series of missteps and a downturn in Internet advertising, however, News Corp was forced last year to take a $403-million write-down in its quarter that ended June 30 for its interactive division, the primary assets of which are MySpace and video game website IGN.


But Van Natta, who was recruited from Facebook last April by Murdoch to turn things around, soon started clashing with News Corp digital media chief Jon Miller, according to people familiar with the situation who requested anonymity because they weren't authorised to speak on the record. One person said that tensions had escalated in recent weeks, culminating in Van Natta's departure.

Miller acknowledged in a statement that he had a role in Van Natta's departure. "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," Miller said.

Van Natta is being replaced by two of his key lieutenants, Chief Operating Officer Mike Jones and product chief Jason Hirschorn, who have assumed the titles of co-presidents. Both are close to Miller.

A Silicon Valley veteran, Van Natta joined Facebook in its early days after stints at companies including Amazon.com. He served first as Facebook's chief operating officer, then as its chief revenue officer and vice president of operations. During his tenure, he helped broker Facebook's $240-million investment from Microsoft and to hire many of its executives. He left Facebook in 2008 because he aspired to have the top job at a major consumer web company.

— Los Angeles Times