Good Move for News Corp: MySpace Had Become 'Sleazy'

COLUMN: News Corp Couldn't Compete Against Facebook

 
on June 30 2011 9:12 AM

MySpace never had much value. It's just that Rupert Murdoch and News Corp didn't know it.

One of the original social media sites, MySpace was to Facebook in social media circles what the horse and buggy was to the gasoline powered automobile.

That News Corp bought MySpace in 2005 for $580 million because the original social networking site had millions of users - enough to make it the world's largest social media site at the time - is not hard to understand. It's just that News Corp had no idea what to do with MySpace once it got the Internet property.

The old adage in web space that users translate to value, no matter what, was shown to be completely false with MySpace, as by 2008 Facebook had passed MySpace in terms of monthly unique visitors to the sites and never looked back, rewriting the history books on what social media is and how it can be used.

Soon, News Corp had buyer's remorse, completely unsure of what to do with its MySpace product. As Facebook zoomed by, gathering by some estimates 600 to 700 million users, MySpace languished in a realm young people who use social media most called creepy. Unless you were a musical artist or a band, groups that found MySpace useful, you almost had no benefit in using MySpace at all - unless, perhaps, you are an Internet prostitute.

Once Craigslist, the online classified ads network, cracked down on active sex solicitation through its site, much of that business moved to MySpace. Sleazy, is how one 20-something social media user coined opinion on MySpace in light of news this week that News Corp had sold the property.

With less than 500 employees, News Corp's buyer's remorse over the Facebook intimidation factor and the pock mark the company held among its portfolio, including Dow Jones, the Wall Street Journal and Fox, MySpace was left in a dangling position to all but die. Even though MySpace commanded 19.7 million unique U.S. visitors per month as recently as May, revenue was flat and reputation was harsh. Estimates peg MySpace's revenue at less than $350 million last year.

Thus, the news this week that News Corp sold MySpace was hardly a revelation. That Specific Media, the company buying MySpace, paid $35 million for the property is the biggest surprise. Yes, MySpace still commands an Alexa rank of 85, placing it among the most-visited websites in the United States and world, but most of the traffic isn't exactly desirable.

The best news for MySpace's future is that pop star Justin Timberlake is getting in on the act, taking a small stake in the deal with Specific Media. One must suspect that Timberlake paid little to nothing for this stake, merely allowing Specific Media to show it plans to develop the site from its pop culture and music roots.

News Corp will maintain an ownership position in MySpace, but it will be a minority position. As for the nearly 500 workers at the Beverly HIlls-based MySpace, half or more are getting pink slips this week, spelling a complete start over for the new owners.

The timing is good for a re-do, considering the social media realm is about to remake, with Google launching an attack on Facebook, field testing its new social media site Google+, and with many Facebook users complaining about difficulty managing privacy controls. Still, considering the levels to which MySpace's user profile had fallen, one can't help but wonder if Specific Media wouldn't have been better off taking its $35 million and starting from scratch.

The company bought a bunch of users, but I'm not sure most of those users have much worth for the type of business model the company wants to build.

Share this article