TechCrunch paints News Corp’s move to replace Chris DeWolfe as MySpace CEO with former Facebook COO Owen Van Natta as a story of strife and betrayal.
Specifically, the blog paints Owen as a villain who left Project Playlist in a lurch and Chris as a victim of News Corp executives jealous of his relationship with Rupert Murdoch.
Our sources say this is an unfair characterization of the story.
Here’s the other side, from several sources close to Owen and MySpace management.
- It happened fast: When Chris was fired, it came as a total shock to MySpace employees. And while he was travelling in Phoenix, Arizona a week ago, Owen didn’t know he was in the running for the MySpace CEO gig. Update: Now we’re hearing that Owen knew the job would become open before former MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe did.
- It’s true that Owen was looking for a graceful exit from Project Playlist. The startup is arguably in something of a death spiral. It faces suits from the major record labels. To reach a settlement with them, its going to need to raise more cash. Obviously, it’s difficult to raise cash when facing suits from the major record labels, especially in this environment. Still, Owen will stay on as an advisor to the company to help them raise that money. But more to the point, are people seriously suggesting that Owen should have stayed put when offered a much better job?
- Chris DeWolfe may be close to Rupert Murdoch, but so is Owen Van Natta. Before the MySpace CEO seat became available, Owen had already interviewed twice with Rupe — once for the top News Corp digital job, which Jonathan Miller holds now, and once for MySpace Music CEO. While Jonathan certainly played a big role in bringing Owen, one source close to the new CEO says he was a Rupert hire. Also, MySpace has hardly been knocking the cover off the ball in recent years. Rupert may like Chris personally, but you could hardly blame him for sanctioning a change.
- Rupert isn’t the first mogul with a man-crush on Owen. Stories that Owen was the driving force behind Microsoft’s $240 million investment in Facebook are true, two sources with knowledge confirm. One source confirmed the Wall Street Journal’s anecdote about how Owen finalised the deal over a dinner at his place with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. But here’s a detail the Journal left out: Steve was so impressed with Owen’s negotiating skills, he’s tried to hire him several times since.
- The animus between Owen and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is probably overplayed. At Facebook, Owen ran business development, sales and even tech ops, so it’s true he probably thought he could and should be CEO while Mark worked on product. It’s also true that Owen wanted to sell Facebook to Yahoo or at least get more aggressive monetizing the site and that Mark didn’t. But beyond those issues, “the drama or the tension that existed is being a little inflated,” says a source.
- Owen may be a Rupert hire, but COO Mike Jones and chief product officer Jason Hirschhorn are Jonathan Miller’s guys. They’re part of a push to make the new MySpace more product-focused, developer friendly and better at getting products to market quickly. Their hiring, along with Owen’s, also makes MySpace slightly less LA-centric. Jason is moving from New York and Owen’s family lives in the Bay Area.