Skyrock.com, one of the world’s largest social networks, is talking with several suitors about a sale, as it nears divestment from its partner radio station’s holding company, paidContent:UK has learned. Orbus CEO Pierre Bellanger told me the interactive business, which sits alongside the Skyrock teen station he started in 1985, would be sold to a player who could expand it farther beyond its native France.
Currently 70 percent owned by Axa Private Equity and 30 percent by Bellanger, Orbus last year decided on the separation to free it for international expansion, expecting to find an overseas partner for a 50/50 alliance. But it has now decided for an outright sale, bringing in all new shareholders.
“We are now in the process of that big conversation with several parties in order to find who will be the best partner for the next stage in our development, which is going to be global. We don’t want to remain just a local player just because we didn’t have the vision or the proper shareholders. Now the pace is accelerating,” said Bellanger, who will sell his entire stake but who would stay on as the operation’s head.
The founder has set his sights on selling to either an internet portal, a media company or a telco, with the latter receiving most attention because Skyrock.com sees mobile as the future of social networking. Bellanger drew comparisons with Vodafone’s (NYSE: VOD) recent acquisition of Zyb and SK Telecom’s (NYSE: SKM) Cyworld acquisition in South Korea. Discussions are taking place but he declined to name names.
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A youth culture phenomenon, Skyblog was started as an adjunct to France’s leading independent radio station in 2002 and has grown in to not just the Francophone web’s hottest property but also the world’s ninth most popular social site and Europe’s third, according to comScore (NSDQ: SCOR). The addition of 11 languages including English has seen it blossom in countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy, reaching 21 million members – a surprise, given France’s mostly insular internet culture.
Bellanger: “Lots of people thought ‘we are going to crush those frogs in the mud in a few weeks’ – and it hasn’t happened. We remained number one (in some markets) through the rise of Facebook and MySpace – still, we think that our future will be best assured by integration within a bigger ensemble.”
Revenue has grown from less than