MySpace’s CEO Van Natta Looks to ‘Clean Up’ Site

MySpace is planning several design and structural changes that will deemphasize the site’s reliance on user-generated content and sanitize its notorious free-for-all look and feel.

“We have to clean up the site,” said CEO Owen Van Natta. “We’ve been way too spread out. We’ve been a mile wide and an inch deep…and the product wasn’t always great.”  

After five months on the job, Van Natta is trying to recast the social networking site by pulling back on its communications aspects to focus on content. As part of that reshaping, Van Natta said he was planning to eliminate some channels on MySpace, such as sections on classified and jobs, and is mulling utilizing technologies like Ajax to dial down the heavy volume of page views generated on the site.

Page views “are really a way of measuring yesterday’s technology,” said Van Natta. “And we’re not trying to be a communications platform. Messaging between people is not very monetizable.”

But content is—specifically produced, professional content. That’s where MySpace is focusing going forward, while still embracing its social nature. Van Natta envisions the site serving as a hub where users go to share and discuss content like music, TV and movies with friends and strangers. In fact, he sees the site’s more open nature—you don’t have to be friends with a MySpace user to interact with them—as a strength. “We see MySpace as a next-generation content distribution platform,” he said, adding that the site touts hundreds of content partners. “The future is all about content being distributed by people. The asset we have is that our social graph is open.” Some changes MySpace made to its Music channel last week (such as a music video hub and instant alerts on what music videos a user’s friends may be watching) provide an indication of where the site’s content strategy is going, added Van Natta. So expect changes, though none too radical. “It’s got to be an evolution,” he said. “It’s all about user experience.”

If Van Natta can pull all this off, MySpace could attract advertisers who are looking to target super-engaged users.

“If they can align people by things they like, that’s a really interesting way to go, especially as an entertainment marketer,” said Greg March, digital group director at Wieden+Kennedy, who’s watching to see if MySpace taps into its user data to isolate and target influencers, something it’s talked about but rarely delivered on. “Instead of [targeting ads] next to comments like ‘What did you eat for lunch?’ you can target users who are saying, ‘Did you see that hot new band?’ That is more compelling.”

But March added that MySpace still needs to prove that an improved user experience results in a more engaged audience. And it needs to stop bleeding users. “If the site can shift from a place for looking at girls to entertainment and content discovery, that’s interesting to advertisers. But in the end, I’ll look at the audience numbers.”

Van Natta knows MySpace needs to maintain its scale (the site reached 65.7 million users in September, per comScore, versus 95.5 million for Facebook). “We have a great core audience now,” he said. “If we execute against this strategy, the great thing about a social platform is that our core audience can bring other people back.”