A group of deep-pocketed institutional investors has had enough of the mediocrity at CNET Networks
It's easy to see the attraction in CNET. The company's collection of websites served an average of 91 million daily page views this past quarter, attracting 141 million unique monthly visitors along the way.
It's also easy to see why large investors would clamor for change. During that same quarter, revenues from continuing operations rose just 9% with adjusted profitability clocking in lower than the previous year's showing.
No one can argue that CNET isn't trying. With nimble tech blogs breaking many of the stories that CNET used to leak, the company has broadened its reach into lifestyle categories such as television viewing (TV.com), music (MP3.com), and foodies (Chow.com). It also recently sold its active yet poorly monetized Webshots photo-sharing site.
The problem is that even with its tweaks, enhancements, and additions, CNET isn't growing as quickly as most online content providers. That makes CNET an unattractive buyout candidate in a scenario where being bought out would be the ideal lifeline. It's a lose-lose deal. Even the refreshed board that may emerge after a proxy battle won't be able to fix CNET overnight.
A couple of years ago, CNET was popular buyout bait. Yahoo!
Unfortunately, both Yahoo! and CNET have been slow crawlers lately. Maybe the argument is that they need each other now more than ever, but the activist group of investors may feel that CNET can unlock its own value without having to sell itself whole.
CNET's shares opened higher this morning on the news before rolling back down. The next few weeks will be interesting. The company's past few quarters may have been dull, but the drama behind the scenes is starting to percolate.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of CNET but still misses the old MP3.com days. He does not own shares in any company in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.