Preparing to part ways with News Corp, the founders of All Things Digital are looking for investments to reboot their technology news site and events business under a new name, sources say. The funding could value Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg’s new venture somewhere between $30 million and $40 million.
Swisher and Mossberg are in advanced negotiations with three potential investors that would take minority stakes in the startup, according to people familiar with the talks. One of the parties is NBCUniversal, a unit of Comcast. The others couldn’t be identified, but sources described them as another media company and a financial investor. A scenario under discussion would involve investments by the financial investor and just one of the two media companies.
Under that scenario, the two investors would each hold a minority stake and leave Mossberg, Swisher, and their staff with majority control at the post-investment valuation of $30 million to $40 million. Still, that valuation would be significantly lower than what was floated in earlier discussions with some potential investors, the sources say.
Swisher and Mossberg are pitching to investors expanded technology coverage and additional conferences, including one similar to their 11-year-old annual event. The AllThingsD business brings in roughly $12 million in annual revenue for News Corp and is modestly profitable, according to people familiar with those books. Its main annual technology conference, which regularly features high-profile CEOs such as Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, is responsible for the bulk of any profits.
The site itself has about eight million monthly unique visitors, according to internal company figures. It’s widely known for Mossberg’s reviews and Swisher’s many scoops about Silicon Valley companies including Yahoo.
But News Corp owns the existing business and the All Things Digital brand and is unlikely to cede the name to Swisher and Mossberg for their new venture, at least not without a hefty payment, sources say. Relations between the parent company and the tech news startup have been frosty over the years, with ongoing disagreements over the level of investment appropriate for the venture. As part of the split, Mossberg will cease writing the personal technology column for the Wall Street Journal that he launched in 1991—though he’s expected to continue writing reviews for his new startup. (I worked at the Journal and its parent company Dow Jones for 16 years and was managing editor of WSJ.com from 2010 to 2012.)
The Journal announced yesterday that the two sides wouldn’t renew their contract, saying the Journal separately planned a “major global expansion” of its technology coverage, including “adding 20 reviewers, bloggers, visual journalists, editors, and reporters covering digital.” Journal managing editor Gerard Baker also said in a statement that the newspaper planned to expand its technology conferences. A company spokesperson declined to comment further.
A spokesman for NBCUniversal didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
In a note to readers, Mossberg and Swisher didn’t discuss funding for their new venture, but said it would allow them to expand:
Starting Jan. 1, 2014, we will still be Web-siting and conference-producing and much more, albeit under a new corporate structure with new partners and investors. While we can’t give any details yet — and there are details — you can assume that this new independent business will be laser-focused on continuing and extending Web journalism and conference journalism with the highest standards. Plus, we will be able to finally have added resources, so we can grow in new and exciting ways, including hiring more journalists and doing much more video.