News Corp.'s IGN Buys Hearst's UGO In Preparation For Game Site Spin-Off
News Corp., which is getting ready to part with MySpace, is now prepping a move for another one of its big Web properties.
People familiar with the companies’ operations tell me News Corp. and Hearst have been finalizing plans over the weekend, and will likely announce the merger within the next few days.
Plans to cleave off IGN.com will take longer, perhaps months. Roy Bahat, who has been running IGN for News Corp. since 2007, will run the new company.
The goal is to create a standalone Web business that will focus primarily on videogame news, reviews, and culture. News Corp. is weighing taking on outside investors for IGN in advance of the split; IGN may also acquire other properties before the move.
News Corp. officials declined to comment. I haven’t heard back from Hearst. News Corp. also owns this Web site.
Unlike other Web moves News Corp. has been making, the plan to move IGN outside of News Corp.’s corporate walls isn’t a disposal of an impaired asset. People familiar with IGN’s operations say it is growing and profitable.
I’m told the company expects to earn more than $10 million this year on revenues of around $100 million. The idea is that IGN will be able to grow much faster if it isn’t operating inside Rupert Murdoch’s company.
Assuming that News Corp. ends up getting a buyer or partner for MySpace, the IGN move means that the company will have found new homes for all three of the big Web properties it bought during the Web 2.0 boom.
News Corp. kicked off the boom itself by buying MySpace for $580 million in the summer of 2005; a few months later it paid $650 million for IGN. In 2007, it paid about $250 million for photo-sharing site Photobucket, which it handed over to Ontela in December 2009.
Both in and outside of News Corp., IGN has always garnered much less attention than MySpace. Just a few years ago, MySpace was the world’s biggest social network, and the reason Google had signed on for a $900 million ad deal; IGN was simply a collection of dude-oriented sites that News Corp. had overpaid for. More recently, MySpace has been a black hole for money and talent, while IGN has found its focus as a competitor to CBS’ Gamespot.
Hearst, meanwhile, has been trying to figure out what to do with UGO for a while. It paid $100 million for the site in 2007, but its original management team left within two years. Hearst Interactive head Ken Bronfin has been overseeing the site since then, and last year the company hired former Montogmery & Co. banker Kevin Covert to find a partner.
I don’t know how the two sites are valued in the merger, except that IGN is worth more. News Corp. will have a controlling stake in the combined company. Comscore says IGN has an audience of 19.7 million U.S. visitors; it pegs UGO at 13.1 million.