By Alexei Oreskovic
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook is looking to hire a big-name executive to cultivate relationships and strike deals with the film and music industries to bolster its media offerings.
In recent months, Facebook had discussions with former MySpace co-President and former MTV executive Jason Hirschhorn about a job spearheading the company's outreach to media companies, according to several people familiar with the situation.
While the talks do not appear to have gone anywhere, and it wasn't clear whether Facebook had approached others about the position, the efforts signal Facebook's intention to take a more hands-on approach in helping media companies bring their content to the social network.
"They had held the media industry at arm's length for a while. It was: 'We are a platform, come use us all you want but we don't necessarily need to partner with you.' But now the attitude has changed," said one of the people familiar with the situation.
"They realize that one of the next phases in its evolution is to work with the media companies," the person added.
Facebook and Hirschhorn both declined to comment.
Facebook's media push comes as the company faces fresh competition from Google Inc, which launched a rival social networking service in June.
Twitter recruited former Creative Artists Agency executive Omid Ashtari to be its "L.A. person" last November, according to a report in AllThingsD.com, and the company recently appointed Chloe Sladden to a new role overseeing content and programing efforts.
"The view is they're looking at Twitter and Google and their outreach to the media community and they don't want to fall behind the curve," the source said. "They don't want the media companies to think they're uninterested."
Facebook has gradually gotten closer to the media world, with Chief Operating Office Sheryl Sandberg joining the Walt Disney Co board of directors in December 2009, and Netflix Inc Chief Executive Reed Hastings taking a seat on Facebook's board in June.
Several movie studios have released movies that can be rented and viewed on Facebook this year, including Warner Brothers' "Dark Knight" and Universal Pictures' "Big Lebowski."
Facebook was aggressively exploring recruiting a media point-person a few months ago, but has since shifted its attention to other strategic priorities, the sources said. But with the company increasingly interested in making media a key part of the social network, people expect the search to pick up again soon.
THE GAMING LESSON
Facebook's media ambitions will be on display on Thursday at its annual developer conference in San Francisco, where the company is expected to unveil new music features.
The music platform will integrate streaming music services from companies including Spotify, Rhapsody and Rdio, directly into users' home pages, said several other people familiar with the situation. Facebook users who subscribe to the music services will be able to share songs and playlists with each other and see what their friends are listening to, the people said.
Facebook will also unveil new flavors of its "Like" button at the event, allowing users to flag Web pages or other online content with specific recommendations, such as "Read," "Watched" or "Listened," according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
For Facebook, building a deeper integration with music, movies and other media into its service makes it more likely that users will spend more time on its site, allowing the company to generate more advertising dollars.
Media also fits well with Facebook Credits, the payment system that Facebook has introduced for its users to buy digital goods on its site. Facebook takes a 30 percent cut of transactions using Facebook Credits.
The template for Facebook's media push is social games, which more than 200 million of its users play on the website every month. Companies like Zynga and Electronic Arts Inc's Playfish have built successful businesses developing social games that can be played on Facebook.
But recreating that magic with the media industry could be trickier.
While technology-savvy social game companies are adept at quickly creating products that shine on various "platforms," such as social networks or smartphone applications, traditional content providers don't possess the same kinds of expertise, said another person familiar with the situation.
"You can't just drop platforms in Hollywood," the person said.
"They make content well," he said. But, he noted, creating media that really shines on a social networking platform requires hand-holding.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Additional reporting by Peter Lauria and Yinka Adegoke in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)
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