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MySpace looks to the past for its future

The social networking site plans to return to its roots by pushing entertainment content and jettisoning portal-like features.

March 10, 2010|By Dawn C. Chmielewski and Jessica Guynn
  • MySpace co-presidents Mike Jones, left, and Jason Hirschhorn, right, and product lead Ali Tahmasbi check out the social networking website. They are retooling the site to recommend movie trailers, recently released songs and video games to users.
MySpace co-presidents Mike Jones, left, and Jason Hirschhorn, right,… (Axel Koester / For The Times )

Reporting from San Francisco and Los Angeles — In a last-ditch effort to revive struggling MySpace, owner News Corp. has adopted a new strategy that it hopes will give the site's millions of users a reason to keep coming back.


FOR THE RECORD:
MySpace strategy: A photo caption in Wednesday's Business section with an article about efforts to revive the struggling online social network misspelled the last name of MySpace product lead Ali Tahmasbi as Tahmusbi. —

MySpace -- which had begun to offer horoscopes, weather reports and other services -- wants to go back to its roots: entertainment.

The online social network, which once dominated the field now lorded over by Facebook, will use information that users volunteer on the site -- and the celebrity pages they check out -- to recommend movie trailers, recently released songs and video games to them.

If it doesn't make MySpace more attractive to users -- and, not incidentally, advertisers -- the social network could be in danger of settling into a period of gradual decline, like the other senior citizens of the Internet: America Online and Yahoo.

"It goes back to discovery and self-expression," said MySpace Co-President Jason Hirschhorn. "That's where we came from and where MySpace really made its mark, being the place that obsessively catered to creative leaders."

MySpace has taken a distant back seat to social networking rival Facebook, which continues to add online users by leaps and bounds. In February, 111.8 million people signed on to Facebook in the U.S. alone -- up 95% from a year earlier, ComScore estimated.

By contrast, MySpace had 66.7 million visitors, down 5%.

Facebook users also spent more than twice as much time on the social network -- an average of 267 minutes per month, compared with the 130 minutes for MySpace users.

Facebook's online clout is giving it an edge among major brand advertisers. Market researcher eMarketer projects that worldwide ad spending with Facebook will reach $605 million this year, up nearly 39% from last year.

If that happens, Facebook will surpass MySpace, which will see revenue drop 21% to $385 million, eMarketer projects.

It could be a rough comeback for MySpace.

"It's hard to find examples of other sites that have been able to turn around after being considered the darling of the Internet and having a falloff," said Debra Aho Williamson, a senior analyst with eMarketer. "Not to say that it can't be done."

After a period of turmoil -- which saw the ouster of Owen Van Natta, a former Facebook executive recruited to revitalize the site -- MySpace co-presidents Mike Jones and Hirschhorn are seeking to present a unified front as they outline their plans for the future.

The duo acknowledged some of the problems that have plagued MySpace: its mission creep that allowed the social network to lard on portal-like features that had nothing to do with entertainment.

In the last nine months, Jones and Hirschhorn have jettisoned sections devoted to weather reports, horoscopes, job boards and classified advertising, and they have acquired assets such as iLike, which provides music recommendations.

"We both looked at the business and said, 'You know what? We still have over 100 million people using us worldwide. We have to pick a lane as to what we're going to be,' " Hirschhorn said.

MySpace this week showcased new features designed to appeal to the site's core audience: people ages 18 to 34. Some of the additions will make it easier for users to not only tell others what they've been doing at the moment, but also what "they're into," Hirschhorn said.

Self-expression has long differentiated MySpace from the more stripped-down look of Facebook. On MySpace, an individual's profile page can be customized to the point of neon garishness. To aid in refining the look, MySpace has recruited contemporary artists Shepard Fairey and Buff Monster to design profile page templates to allow for a more polished presentation.

Borrowing a page from Facebook's News Feed, which allows users to update where they are or even their cosmic thoughts, MySpace has introduced Stream.

In a similar way, it allows users to add their immediate thoughts -- plus videos, music and photos they want to share with the world -- to their pages.

Bands could harness this as a tool to alert their followers to new music and videos.

"As a user, you're getting exposure to content you've never seen before," Jones said.

But analyst Rich Greenfield of BTIG said that even if MySpace succeeds in carving out an entertainment niche, there's no guarantee that it will bolster the site.

"Can they position themselves to survive and re-energize for growth?" he asked. "That relies on their ability to find something content-wise that differentiates them."

While MySpace may no longer be worth the $580 million News Corp. paid for the social network in 2005, Jon Miller, News Corp.'s chief digital officer, said it nonetheless can exist and thrive, side by side with Facebook.

"We need to be a platform for self expression that is clearly differentiated from the competition," Miller said. "Let people do their thing, which is where MySpace started, but with the technological underpinnings that allow things to work the way things work in the modern world."

dawn.chmielewski@

latimes.com

jessica.guynn@

latimes.com

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