The battle to shake up CNET Networks (Nasdaq: CNET) has escalated.

A group of private equity and institutional investors is adding to its sizable stake in the new media company. In a press release issued last night, JANA Partners indicated it now has a 10.5% voting stake in the company. The consortium of activist investors owns more than 21% of CNET.

The activists want to put a fire under the slow-growing company behind popular dot-com hangouts Gamespot.com, TV.com, and Tech Republic. JANA's activist efforts at companies such as TD AMERITRADE (Nasdaq: AMTD) and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) didn't pan out as planned, but the clay's more malleable at CNET.

Despite posting envious Web traffic levels, recent financials at CNET have been unimpressive.  

This doesn't mean that JANA will win. The activists want to replace two of the board's eight members at this year's annual shareholders meeting and add five pre-selected members to an expanded board. Then they would have a majority of the seats in what would be a 13-member board of directors.

Between the group's growing stake and shareholder discontent after watching the stock meander in the single digits, the activists might succeed in unseating the two current board members that are up for re-election. Expanding the board may be a trickier sell.

It's no secret that CNET is virtual-realty rich and actual-profit poor. It's sitting on a lot of underexploited gems including Search.com and Kids.com. Why is Search.com not a leading search engine? Don't tell me that the name is too generic because IAC/InterActiveCorp's (Nasdaq: IACI) Ask.com, Answers.com (Nasdaq: ANSW), and Local.com (Nasdaq: LOCM) are doing just fine. Why is Kids.com little more than a parked page with ads?

Now that even Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) is weaning itself from copy-restricted tracks, shouldn't CNET's MP3.com be a bigger force than it is?

This doesn't mean that I side with the activists. I have chatted with CNET CEO Neil Ashe a couple of times in the past, and I know he has the vision to make the most of his company's untapped properties. Then again, I have to concede that I don't mind watching outsiders set the dogs loose in the boardroom to see the company pick up the pace in its transformation.

Keep watching this boardroom battle. It's going to be good.

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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 of the companies in this story. He is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.