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ITV parts company with Friends

ITV offloads social networking website for £25m

ITV has sold off the reunion-based website Friends Reunited in the wake of the TV company’s £105 million latest half-year pre-tax loss.

The broadcaster has agreed to sell the social networking site to DC Thomson, publisher of the Beano and the Dundee Courier, for £25 million – significantly less than the £120 million that ITV paid for the service in 2005.

The rise of Facebook and MySpace

Experts say Friends Reunited is the victim of the rise of social networking sites such as Facebook, Bebo and MySpace.

‘It [Friends Reunited] was very popular when it started as it was the first site to do what it did [put people in touch with old friends]. But it was superseded very quickly. Facebook and Bebo offered so much more functionality; you could connect with a group of friends rather than individuals,’ says Rebecca Jennings, principal analyst for Forrester Research.

Faced with this competition Friends Reunited was slow to react. ‘There was no reason to keep coming back to the site. Facebook gave people a reason to come back every day. Friends Reunited reacted slowly to that competition,’ says Jennings.

Free content from Facebook

Friends Reunited faced competition from free offerings, according to Jennings. ‘It introduced a subscription model and was using a paying system when no-one else was. Why pay when you can pop over to Facebook and have a way of doing it for free,’ says Jennings. ‘Facebook, when it began, had a young demographic who had grown up with the technology whereas those using Friends Reunited tended to be much older.’

Friends and family

New owners DC Thomson have bought the service largely to acquire the spin-off genealogy site Genes Reunited, which it aims to combine with its own genealogy service findmypast.com. These sites operate the official 1901 and 1911 Census websites respectively in association with The National Archives.

Jennings says it’s a wise move: ‘People will pay for that sort of content [genealogy] as it’s hard to find elsewhere. Genes Reunited has been a success under the radar.’

And as for Friends Reunited? ‘There’s too much competition for Friends and the competition is way ahead. I expect it to carry on but without much investment,’ says Jennings.

The sale is subject to competitions approval.

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