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News Corp. digital chief: MySpace 'kind of stopped'

As the social site attempts a turnaround, the parent company's chief digital officer talked about how it lost its way. Whether it'll be able to get back on top is less clear.

SAN FRANCISCO--With both MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta and News Corp. chief digital officer Jonathan Miller taking the stage at the Web 2.0 Summit this week, there was naturally plenty of talk about the social site's attempt to reverse its ill fortune of late. Once the biggest name in social networking, it's long since lost that title to Facebook and is trying to reinvent itself as a destination for music and entertainment.

"I think that what you see in the space more than anything else is if you don't keep innovating and moving forward you get in trouble," Miller said in his talk on Thursday morning. "You can't stop, you have to keep going, and (MySpace) didn't keep going, it kind of stopped."

And in that time, he added, "we had two fantastic competitors emerge in Facebook and Twitter."

The previous day, Van Natta made his first big appearance on the conference circuit since he joined MySpace and was tasked with a major turnaround. Van Natta unveiled a new music video hub as well as an enhanced set of marketing tools for music artists--some of which were built in with technology from iLike, which MySpace acquired this summer.

And on Wednesday night, the "new" MySpace was out in full form: a line snaked down three city blocks when music fans caught wind of the fact that the company had booked rock band Weezer for one of its "secret shows" concerts.

"MySpace started with an essence around certain things, and one of them was music, and meeting new people," Miller, a former AOL exec who also joined News Corp. this spring, said on Thursday. "We're going back to basics in that sense, but you've got to make it relevant to today and going forward."

It's obviously too early to tell whether the "reinvention" will work. Some critics say that it's too big of a task, especially given the state of the advertising market. But Miller spent a big portion of his talk at the Web 2.0 Summit hyping up the Fox Audience Network, or FAN, the digital advertising division that News Corp. first announced last spring.

"We kind of broke it out of MySpace and gave it a life of its own," Miller said. "We're just at the beginning of a coming-out party for FAN."

FAN just inked a deal with agency giant Omnicom, and more are on the way, he added. Miller also said FAN is the fifth-largest ad network on the Web, after the usual suspects--Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL--and that it's hoping to get into fourth place soon.