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Bidders line up for Facebook

Fox Interactive forges mobile strategy

The digital world was poised for big changes on Tuesday as bidders finally seemed ready to make a play for Facebook, while News Corp.’s Fox Interactive attempted to forge the next phase of its mobile strategy.

Microsoft emerged as a potential bidder for a stake in Facebook, the popular social-networking site that has been described as a more mature MySpace and has been the subject of intense speculation about a possible sale over the last 24 months.

The company had been reluctant to sell to an early round of bidders.

But according to reports on Monday, Microsoft was interested in a bid of up to $500 million for a 5% stake in Facebook, in a move that could touch off a bidding war with other congloms and tech powerhouses.

Google is also thought to be interested in Facebook and could try to outbid the Redmond, Wash.-based company.

While other congloms, including Viacom and News Corp., had previously been mentioned as possible contestants in the Facebook sweepstakes, their subsequent investment in other sites makes it unlikely that they could or would want to pull off the capital for a major deal.

Some experts questioned the Microsoft dollar figure, saying that by extrapolation it would value the site at an enormous $10 billion, with some even suggesting that Microsoft was testing the market more than making a serious play.

The overheated price underscored the value of a social-networking site to media congloms — and highlighted that Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of MySpace for $580 million in July 2005 is, by current standards, a relative bargain.

Meanwhile, at MySpace’s Fox Interactive Media division Monday, News Corp. made a move to define a key element of its mobile strategy by announcing a set of free, ad-supported mobile sites that will be grouped together.

Strategy is an attempt to better unite disparate media assets as well as use MySpace as a lever to sell more ads for other sites.

FIM sites that will be part of the initiative, which is being undertaken with the mobile-ad firm Millennial Media, include the movie-review site Rotten Tomatoes and media properties like FoxSports.com, as well as, of course, MySpace.

But as they have on the online side, some experts continue to wonder how MySpace and other Fox interactive properties fit with the company’s entertainment assets. Fox Mobile Entertainment, which oversees the conversion to mobile of Fox properties ranging from “Borat” to “24,” continues to be run as a separate division under topper Lucy Hood.

Officials said Monday that the new set of ad-supported sites won’t affect how those entertainment properties are distribbed on mobile devices.

Mobile is seen as the next big platform for entertainment content, and the creation of free sites reps a similar shift as the one on the Web, where a paid-content model is shifting to an ad-supported model. MySpace already has a deal with AT&T under which consumers pay for a mobile version of the site.

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