FriendFinder's Marc Bell to Step Down as CEO

Mar 29, 2012 2:15 PM PST

BOCA RATON, Fla. — FriendFinder CEO Marc Bell plans to step down as CEO, making way for Chief Operating Officer Anthony Previte to transition to that position by July 1.

Bell made the announcement in conjunction with a fourth-quarter and annual earnings statement issued today.

Effective tomorrow, Previte will take on the additional role of president of the company before transitioning to the chief executive position. He has been with the company as COO since February 2008, after serving in a number of executive capacities at Starsmith and Globix Corp.

Bell, in a statement, said that he would continue to dedicate a substantial portion of his time to the company as co-chairman and chief strategy officer.

"Anthony and I have worked together for many years both at FriendFinder and before, and I can't think of a better person to continue my legacy here at FriendFinder," Bell said. "After 10 years of commuting to the West Coast, I have decided that it is time for a change and Anthony has earned and deserves the privilege of becoming FriendFinder's next chief executive officer."

Bell, who lives in Florida and owns more than 5.5 million shares of the company according to a regulatory filing in 2011, did not elaborate why he was stepping down as the company's chief executive; however earlier this  month he said he was considering running for Congress.

Bell, 43, is focusing on the Palm Beach-Broward District 22 seat, which represents those from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., along the coast. It extends westward as far as Coral Springs, Fla.

He’s involved in a variety of other business ventures, with executive directorships at Armour Residential REIT Inc. and Marc Bell Capital Partners. He also has been an investor and co-producer of several Broadway plays, including the Tony Award-winning "Jersey Boys" and "August: Osage County."

Bell also said today that the board of directors' composition is changing, as well.

"We are very excited that Donald Johnson, Steven Rattner and Kai Shing Tao have agreed to join our board of directors, effective immediately," Bell said. "They bring a wealth of expertise from their diverse backgrounds that we are sure will make positive contributions to the company's success."

In a preview of its annual earnings statement, the company recorded another loss for the year — $31.1 million in 2011, compared to a net loss of $43.2 million last year. FriendFinder  recorded a $10.2 million net loss for the fourth quarter.

"Revenue was negatively impacted by a decrease in traffic and a decline in new subscribers and renewal orders primarily in European markets," the company said. "The weakness in social networking revenue was partially offset by an increase in live interactive video and premium content."

FriendFinder said it is focused on a number of initiatives in 2012 that will require investments in the first half of the year to drive revenue growth in the second half of the year. It took a $10 million charge in 2011 and made personnel adjustments, including terminations.

The Sunnyvale, Calif., company, which operates more than two dozen social network sites and Penthouse magazine, is developing a new platform for casual dating sites that it says will allow for better control of real-time advertising, more segmented advertising and an improved client-user interface. It plans to release the new platform in its second quarter.

"Entering 2012, I am confident in FriendFinders' ability to improve its operational results," Bell said. "Although we experienced incremental improvements during the quarter in Europe, we continue to encounter strong headwinds as we work to introduce additional product offerings and payment options to address low user conversion and transaction acceptance rates.

"Our decision to scale-back our current activities will allow us to concentrate our efforts on markets that provide us with the best near-term opportunity to maintain our market share and grow our business."

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