Is it time for CNET Networks (NASDAQ:CNET) to hang it up as a public company? That's what Henry Blodget is suggesting in a recent blog entry. He thinks the best move for the fallen Web darling is to go private and bring back former CEO Shelby Bonnie to complete a makeover away from quarterly public scrutiny.

Blodget alludes to DoubleClick, the display-advertising network that floundered as a public company before it accepted a $1.1 billion offer to go private two years ago. It dolled itself up and found Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) willing to pay nearly three times that much earlier this year.

Blodget has a point about the untapped potential at CNET. The company runs popular websites including, Tech Republic, and video game hangout Gamespot, yet revenue inched just 5% higher this past quarter. The company attracts 137 million unique monthly visitors across all of its properties, yet page views are down year over year.

And if you're not growing at least as quickly as the Internet itself, why are you even public?

CNET has enough moving parts to warrant closer inspection. You don't want to throw the bathwater out with the crybabies. But still, fixing CNET is a priority. Doing it behind the curtain as a private company just would make it easier.

Get it right the next time
Hold on a minute, though. Why should CNET punch out at a pittance, clean itself up, and eventually make a whole lot of loot for a private-equity firm?

Investors would prefer to cut out the middleman and see the company improve in value under their watch. Blodget's right, though. It's going to take a lot of slicing and mopping to turn CNET into a beauty queen.

He's not the first to suggest that CNET needs saving. I did back in April, just days after NetVentures co-founder James Nicholson fleshed out a game plan. Those suggestions came on the heels of a lackluster first quarter. Things obviously haven't improved since then, because more people are lining up to apply the Heimlich.

I don't agree that CNET needs to get well behind closed doors, though. I also can't see this playing out like DoubleClick's pending deal with Google. DoubleClick was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. The three major paid-search portals were hungry for inroads into display advertising, and there it was, dangling as fresh bait. No one is going to approach a content network with fading traffic numbers as a growth opportunity. If a turnaround is possible, let CNET heal itself.

A whole new world
Yes, CNET can fix itself. It just needs to take drastic steps, and it needs to take them seriously. Let me spell out a few.

How about Webshots? It's been a drag on CNET for more than a year now. Yes, Webshots is a solid photo-sharing site, but it lacks the sticky community features that you will find on Yahoo!'s (NASDAQ:YHOO) Flickr. Yet it's too big to ditch, and it's too lethargic to sell off. Fixing it really is the only solution. Doing so involves taking a more aggressive stance in monetizing the content and making it more fun.

Webshots has nearly 400 million photos floating in its servers, and it needs to shake those moneymakers. I know that it has on-demand printing products of those snapshots available through companies such as Qoop and (NASDAQ:STMP), but it needs either a more creative marketer, like Shutterfly (NASDAQ:SFLY), or a cottage-industry maker, like Zazzle, to really raise the stakes. And how hard would it be to contact the folks at Blabberize, to see whether Webshots can incorporate the technology to make snapshots come to life in engaging ways?

Beyond Webshots, CNET can't let organic growth dictate its future. Even as it takes baby steps to dust off valuable domains as functional websites, traffic is still stalling. It's like Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate bonbon factory, only in reverse. If CNET can't acquire rapidly growing websites, let it make the most of the fire sale and buy up companies that are perfect fits. Dice (NYSE:DHX), for one, is trading for less than this summer's IPO price and runs several industry-specific websites for job seekers. Jupitermedia (NASDAQ:JUPM) also runs industry-specific sites, but it has a thriving images business that may hold the key to making Webshots work.

Another CNET alternative to unlock the value behind the sum of its parts is to let the company break off into two or three different companies, each one specializing in certain areas, such as entertainment or technology.

CNET doesn't need to punch out to get any of this done. In fact, the acquisitions would be easier on the pocketbook by using stock as collateral. So do change, CNET. But change in public, please.

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