Shakeup: Rhapsody cuts 15% of workforce, president out as new investor arrives

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Jon Irwin, Rhapsody president, will step down and become a strategic adviser as part of a management shakeup.

Seattle-based Rhapsody International is cutting 15 percent of its workforce, and its president Jon Irwin is stepping down with the arrival of a new investor, Columbus Nova Technology Partners, which has made a “significant investment” in the venerable music service.

Columbus Nova is known in part for its earlier acquisition of Rock Band creator Harmonix from Viacom, which has been a longtime Rhapsody investor.

Rhapsody has struggled to reach profitability in the face of stiff competition from Spotify and other music startups. Rhapsody says the move is part of an effort to “rebalance and restructure US operations and add resources to enable the company to accelerate its efforts in Europe and emerging markets.”

A news release announcing the changes today doesn’t say how many employees are being let go, but sources familiar with the situation say that about 30 people are affected. Executives expected to leave the company include Brendan Benzing, executive vice president; Mark Keeney, vice president of marketing; and chief financial officer Adi Dehejia.

Irwin will remain a strategic adviser to the company. The Verge reported last week that Rhapsody was searching for a replacement.

Rhapsody revenue dropped 8 percent to $34.7 million in the second quarter, from $37.8 million in the same quarter a year ago, as the company made a series of changes to focus on its music service. The company was still able to narrow its quarterly loss slightly to $4.38 million. Rhapsody is privately held, but RealNetworks, an investor in the music service, reports Rhapsody’s basic financials as part of its quarterly regulatory filings

The news release doesn’t detail the size of Columbus Nova’s stake, but the investment firm appears to have taken all or part of Viacom’s role in the company. Two of Columbus Nova’s executives are joining the Rhapsody board. RealNetworks, which spun out Rhapsody in 2010, remains an investor.

Here’s the full text of the news release.

RHAPSODY INTERNATIONAL RECEIVES SIGNIFICANT INVESTMENT FROM COLUMBUS NOVA

Streaming Music Service Also Makes Organizational Changes

SEATTLE—September 16, 2013 — Rhapsody International, the original on-demand music service, today announced that Columbus Nova Technology Partners (“CNTP”), an investment firm, has become a significant shareholder in the company. Rhapsody International operates as Rhapsody in the United States and Napster in Europe. Jason Epstein and Andrew Intrater from CNTP joined the Board of Directors of the company.

“Rhapsody International is poised for tremendous growth.  We’ve recently launched the Napster music streaming service in 15 additional countries in Europe, rolled out a partnership with MTV in conjunction with German wireless carrier ePlus and have a strong pipeline of product innovations and global partnerships in place,” CNTP’s Epstein said.

Concurrent with CNTP’s investment, Rhapsody’s Board has decided to rebalance and restructure US operations and add resources to enable the company to accelerate its efforts in Europe and emerging markets.  The restructuring will affect approximately 15 percent of Rhapsody’s staff.

As part of this restructuring, Jon Irwin will step down as president of Rhapsody and will continue on as a strategic adviser.

“‎We are grateful to Jon Irwin for his leadership contributions and also want to thank those employees we’ve had to let go today for their hard work and commitment to Rhapsody,” Epstein said.

With these changes, the company has formed an executive operating committee consisting of Rhapsody executives Brian Ringer, chief technology officer, Paul Springer, senior vice president, Americas, Thorsten Schliesche, senior vice president, Europe and new chief financial officer, Ethan Rudin.

Ethan Rudin joins the company as Chief Financial Officer.  Rudin comes to Rhapsody from Starbucks strategy and corporate development group. Prior to Starbucks, Rudin held senior positions at Citi, J.P. Morgan and KPMG LLP.  Rudin holds an M.B.A. from Columbia Business School and a B.A. from Tufts University.

For additional information about Rhapsody International, visit www.rhapsody.com.

About Rhapsody International

Rhapsody International is parent company of leading streaming music services, Rhapsody and Napster. Initially launched in December 2001, Rhapsody is the original streaming music service that gives members unlimited on-demand access to more than 20 million songs, whether they’re listening on a PC, laptop, Internet connected home stereo or TV, MP3 player or mobile phone. In December 2011, Rhapsody International acquired Napster International. Rhapsody International is headquartered in Seattle, with offices across the U.S. and Europe. Rhapsody and the Rhapsody logo are registered trademarks of Rhapsody International Inc. Follow @Rhapsody on Twitter and keep up with the latest on the Rhapsody Facebook page.