NEW YORK IAC/InterActiveCorp said on Wednesday it was shaking up the management of Ask.com, in a sign of how prominently the search unit will figure into a major company restructuring.
Company executive Jim Safka will take the role of Ask.com chief executive immediately, as well as retain his title as CEO of Primal Ventures, an IAC investment arm.
Safka, 39, replaces Jim Lanzone, who is moving to venture capital firm Redpoint Ventures as entrepreneur-in-residence.
"In the new IAC, it's going to be a flagship brand," Safka told Reuters in an interview. "Ask is at the very beginning of its growth."
IAC plans to spin off four of its largest businesses into separate companies later this year, including cable shopping network HSN, box office service Ticketmaster, online mortgage broker LendingTree and vacation business Interval. IAC, run by media veteran and Internet investor Barry Diller, will focus on its Web media and advertising businesses.
Safka served as CEO of IAC's online dating unit Match.com from 2004 to 2007. He has been credited with cultivating 25 percent annual revenue growth during his tenure and an annual 52 percent rise in operating income before amortization.
In the last year, Ask.com has expanded its services, launched an aggressive marketing campaign, pushed into mobile Web applications and has seen the number of unique users rise.
But it still trails far behind Web search leader Google Inc, as well as Yahoo Inc and Microsoft Corp for overall search market share, according to the most recent data from tracking firm comScore.
"We have certainly not bitten an inch out of the hide of Google," Diller said at an investor conference on Tuesday. "I've been daunted by the progress of that."
Diller said he was optimistic an expanded deal for Ask.com to carry Google paid listings in return for sharing ad revenue "gives us the ability to market Ask as it has not been marketed before."
The deal, announced in November, is estimated to be worth $3.5 billion to IAC over five years.
(Reporting by Michele Gershberg. editing by Gunna Dickson)