SIPphone on Rupert Murdoch’s Radar?

Rupert Murdoch had planned to spend $2 billion on Internet related acquisitions. With today’s $373 million acquisition of EasyNet, and $1.2 billion buying up properties like IGN and MySpace, he has already spent about $1.57 billion. So what’s next? Chances are that the next strike would be on a VoIP player. Informed sources say that News Corp is talking to pretty much every one in the VoIP space.

I have heard very loud whispers that Michael Robertson’s SIPphone is on News Corp’s radar. SIPphone, by the way is the company behind the ultrafine SIP-soft client, Gizmo Project, which has become a favorite with the Mac users. VoIP industry insiders indicate that the two parties have had advanced level conversations. No deal is in place, and no one knows what will be the price.

But what could be the price for a deal like that? Somewhere between $25-$50 million at the very least. SIPphone is said to have 250,000 users and if you used the $200-per-actual-user price EBay paid for Skype, that works out to about $50 million. All this could just be loud whispers, and nothing more than that. No response really from News Corp’s PR department to my queries. I am still waiting to hear back from Michael Robertson.

There has been a lot of talk about what News Corp will do next, promptly in part by a fantastic profile of the wily old fox in the latest issue of Fortune magazine. Murdoch wants to “get younger fast and to get audience fast,” the magazine says. And most of its recent purchases are along those lines.

The second prong is to add web features, like video search, instant messaging, and Internet calling—or VOIP—that will theoretically differentiate his sites (though the competition is developing the same stuff). Murdoch has told Wall Street that he’ll spend up to $2 billion on Internet acquisitions, so he’s got about $700 million to go.

Mark Pincus, founder of Tribe.net says that if he was Rupert Murdoch, he would buy Craigslist. Forget everything else. I am not so sure. Murdoch has publicly stated that he is interested in getting search capabilities and having a VoIP play. Fortune says News Corp, might have looked at a tiny search-engine, Clusty. The there were those rumors about Blinkx, and Skype.

Strategically buying SIPphone would make sense, and here is why:

  • SIPphone’s Gizmo Project is like Skype, only cheaper and standards based.
  • The Gizmo Project soft clients will be a perfect way to marry the IGN Gamer and MySpace audiences to PC-based VoIP.
  • At the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) SIPphone did a big pilot project that let all students talk to each other for free.
  • Imagine replicating that on many other campuses for free, and Murdoch’s desire to get “younger” could become more real than his “dyed” hair.
  • Did I mention it is not going to cost billions to buy SIPphone? Heck its not even going to cost tens of millions.
  • Works with Google Talk
  • SIPphone and MySpace were working closely to get some sort of Voice-features into the fast growing social network to add more stickiness to the community.

News Corp has plans to announce its VoIP plans soon, and we shall find out! Still, if it happens, then this could be a fantastic outcome for Michael, who is focusing all his energies these days (it seems) on the digital music business. He recently hired DVD Jon for his new MP3Tunes project. The cash from SIPphone transaction could come in handy. Tom Keating says he is hearing about a mega merger in the VoIP space, likely to be announced next week at the Internet Telephony conference in LA. That’s Michael’s backyard.

Additional Reading:

Why Murdoch Bought MySpace
Murdoch, WiMax & The Two Way Web
Inherent Truths & The Value of Community

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