News Corp, popular tech blog contemplate split -sources

Sat Feb 16, 2013 7:48am IST

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(Reuters) - AllThingsD, the widely read technology blog run by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, has begun discussions with owner News Corp (NWSA.O) about extending or ending their partnership, sources familiar with the situation told Reuters.

According to these sources, AllThingsD's contract with News Corp expires at the end of the year. One of the sources said Swisher and Mossberg have to deliver a business plan by next week to Robert Thomson, the former Wall Street Journal managing editor who will run News Corp's publishing unit as CEO after it is spun off.

The fact that AllThingsD's contract is up this year is well known, and the sources said the website is receiving a lot of "inbound interest" from potential buyers parallel to its talks with News Corp.

Among the names mentioned by one of the sources as having reached out to AllThingsD was Conde Nast, where Swisher recently agreed to work as a contributing writer for Vanity Fair, and Hearst.

The sources also speculated that former Yahoo (YHOO.O) and News Corp executive Ross Levinsohn might be looking at the website given his new role as Chief Executive of Guggenheim Digital Media, which according to the press release announcing his hiring, comes complete with "significant capital to acquire and invest in new media companies." The private equity shop already owns Billboard, Hollywood Reporter, and Adweek.

AllThingsD has reported that AOL expressed interest in acquiring it in the past, but said those talks "were preliminary at best."

Calls to AllThingsD were referred to a News Corp representative who declined comment. A Conde Nast representative declined comment. Calls to Hearst were not immediately returned. Calls and emails to Ross Levinsohn were not returned.

While AllThingsD is recognized as the brainchild of Swisher and Mossberg, News Corp actually owns the website and its name. However, according to provisions in their contract, Swisher and Mossberg have approval authority over any sale, one of the sources said.

Technically, News Corp could retain the AllThingsD's name in the event of a sale, forcing Swisher and Mossberg to start a new venture under a different brand name. But historically in these types of situations a deal is usually worked out to allow the founders to take the company name with them as part of a settlement.

The sources described the website and conference business combined as profitable. AllThingsD was first launched as a conference, "D: All Things Digital" in 2003, and a website followed.

It has grown into a technology industry must-read, and features the conference division known for snagging A-list corporate executives for interview sessions. Apple's (AAPL.O) Steve Jobs, Facebook (FB.O) founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft (MSFT.O) founder Bill Gates, and virtually every other major technology executive has spoken at the D Conference.

Earlier this week, AllThingsD's well-regarded media writer, Peter Kafka, led a media-centric conference for the website that included panels with Intel's (INTC.O) Erik Huggers, Live Nation (LYV.N) CEO Michael Rapino, and Netflix's (NFLX.O) programming boss Ted Sarandos, among others.

The website has two more conferences on the agenda for this year: a mobile one that was postponed until April due to Hurricane Sandy, and the main D Conference in May.

The sources described the relationship between News Corp and AllThingsD as amicable but stressed.

"Like all partnerships, there could be more cooperation between the two," said one of the sources. "There is tension between AllThingsD and the Wall Street Journal, for example."

As a result of management changes, over the last few years the website has reported to numerous Wall Street Journal and News Corp executives, among them Gordon Crovitz, Les Hinton, and now Lex Fenwick and Robert Thomson.

Should the two sides reach a deal on a new contract, AllThingsD would be included as part of the publishing unit in the News Corp split, one of the sources said. (Additional reporting by Jennifer Saba; Editing by David Gregorio and Carol Bishopric)

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