Kara Swisher

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If Yahoo's Going Social, Is Demand Media Back on Its Dance List?

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Last year, Yahoo EVP Hilary Schneider and then-Media Group head Scott Moore had a summery seaside dinner with Demand Media co-founder and CEO Richard Rosenblatt (pictured here) in Santa Monica, Calif., right around the corner from the online publishing company’s HQ.

While many speculated that Yahoo (YHOO) could be doing some friendly kibitzing to get a sense of where the eclectic network of general- and special-interest sites was headed, for a possible acquisition, nothing came of it.

That’s because at the time, Rosenblatt insisted that he was aiming to eventually take his company public and Yahoo was in the midst of ongoing corporate turmoil.

“There is a lot of potential here and I want to build a big company for the long-term,” said Rosenblatt in an interview with BoomTown last July (see video below).

But, as my post noted: “Still, at some point when Yahoo is not in the free fall it is currently in, Demand might make a great purchase for Yahoo.”

And now, a year later, as new Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz works to stop that slide, several sources close to the company tell me another look-see at Demand is likelier than ever.

That’s underscored with recent indications that a major strategy will finally follow through on making Yahoo’s massive but disparate service more social, especially its content offerings.

But would Bartz go as far as making a big buy now or would she be more likely to strike a massive partnership with Demand, from which Yahoo could learn a lot?

Such an acquisition could cost anywhere from $1.5 billion to–as was floated last year in better times–$3 billion. In addition, if Demand was to engage in more serious talks with Yahoo, there would likely be other suitors.

As costly as that is, some sort of link-up with Demand is an interesting idea, especially since Yahoo could use a bold and definitive move to signal social goals that play to its strengths and are not a copycat of more powerful social-networking sites now in place.

At a Morgan Stanley (MS) conference last month, Bartz said, for example, that “I do not believe we can invent the next Facebook,” while noting Yahoo still needed to be more social throughout the service, especially in its content.

And, just yesterday, a Reuters article about that focus was titled: “Yahoo’s Plan: Create Community from Isolated Sites.”

Said the article: “If [Yahoo co-founder David] Filo and new CEO Carol Bartz have their way, the kinds of social networking features available on Facebook will become part of many Yahoo websites and allow their users to network with each other without using Facebook. The company hopes the strategy will help link its disparate properties, bringing more advertising dollars and growth.”

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And that’s just at the heart of Demand Media, which dubs itself the “leader in social media.”

Demand was founded in 2006 by Rosenblatt and Shawn Colo, who raised a giant pool of funding–$355 million–from gold-plated investors like Goldman Sachs (GS), Oak Investment Partners and even a private investment from major Yahoo investor Gordon Crawford.

Getting that kind of backing was due to Rosenblatt’s entrepreneurial track record.

As founder, chairman and CEO, he sold iMALL to Excite@Home for $425 million in a 1999 stock swap.

And, perhaps most famously, as CEO of Intermix Media, Rosenblatt sold it with the company’s crown jewel, MySpace, to News Corp. (NWS) for $580 million in cash.

Then, Rosenblatt started Demand, which takes user-generated content of all kinds and on all kinds of topics–especially via video–from an army of freelancers and leverages it into massive traffic that it monetizes.

Demand is also the one of the bigger suppliers of video to YouTube, which it also monetizes.

And, through the acquisition of Pluck, the company also laces social-networking tools throughout the sites, as well as for many well-known third parties.

All this has given Demand upward of 70 million unique visitors per month, at sites like eHow and GolfLink.com, with about $150 million in annual revenue.

And–drum roll please–it is reportedly profitable, although how much is not clear.

While he has long maintained a public offering was on the horizon, despite the weak economy, Rosenblatt has also been interested in the idea of how to revive major players like Yahoo and Time Warner (TWX) online unit AOL.

Both have been struggling, but still have massive traffic and brand recognition, along with large advertising businesses.

And in many ways, the energetic Rosenblatt is just the kind of product-centric and visionary exec Yahoo lacks, despite Bartz’s clear ability to get the company’s management ducks in order.

What could be even more interesting, said one source, would be to marry Yahoo and Demand with a lot of what is going on with the publishing of niche sites at AOL’s MediaGlow content unit, in a giant publishing network.

Ironically, AOL was another acquisition target of Yahoo, in yet another deal that did not pan out last year.

Here’s the interview with Rosenblatt at Demand Media HQ last year:


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