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POINTCAST: NO DEAL

Web firm disavows News Corp. buyout rumors

NEW YORK — Internet news service PointCast Inc. denied a report that it was negotiating to sell out to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., although the privately held company conceded it might go public sometime in the future.

News Corp. declined to comment on a report in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal that it was negotiating to buy PointCast for about $400 million. But PointCast CEO Chris Hassett said in a statement that “while PointCast has been approached from time to time by unsolicited acquirers, our present intention is to remain independent.”

Hassett added that PointCast has “amply financed its growth,” by raising $48 million in private funding, although it may consider going public in the future.

Despite the denial, investors dumped News Corp. stock on the report, pushing it down 62¢, to close at $19.87. The stock fell 37¢ Monday after the media conglomerate announced plans to acquire direct marketing concern Heritage Media for $1.3 billion in stock and assumed debt, reflecting the nervousness on Wall Street about Murdoch’s seemingly unrestrained spending plans.

“If this happens, it’s just a continuation of what has been an aggressive investment plan over the past few months,” Natwest Securities analyst Gary Farber said.

Murdoch “has spread himself too thin,” one investment banker said.

PointCast offers up-to-date Internet “broadcasts” of news services from a range of publishers so News’ interest in the company may be to beef up its Internet presence, which has faded since the company called off efforts for a joint-venture online service with telco MCI Communications.

Each of the Big Three TV networks has established Internet services, mostly with partners: NBC is in partnership with Microsoft with MSNBC, while ABC News is about to launch an Internet news service in partnership with Starwave. CBS recently bought a 22% interest in a sports line Internet site renamed CBS SportsLine.

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