A startup founder tells us that, over the weekend, he and his friends overheard TechCrunch writers celebrating the sale of Michael Arrington's blog to News Corp.'s Fox Interactive unit — Rupert Murdoch's home for MySpace, Rotten Tomatoes, and other wayward websites. The source tells us that the deal has been signed, but TechCrunch is waiting for its summer party at August Capital's Sand Hill Road offices to announce it. Another source who's spoken recently to Arrington says that a deal is on. But a highly placed News Corp. source says there's "no truth" to the rumor. What's behind this wave of TechCrunch sale talk?
Arrington desperately wants to sell, that's for sure. But a Fox Interactive-TechCrunch linkup makes little sense on the surface — Fox Interactive chief Peter Levinsohn is said to loathe Arrington, or at least dislike him. And yet Levinsohn, who has practically no control over Fox Interactive's largest business, MySpace, might conceivably be eager to buy a tech blog which gives him, if not traffic, some industry clout. After all, that's why Murdoch owns the reportedly unprofitable New York Post.
But the biggest problem with an Arrington deal is, well, Arrington. Recent rumors had AOL acquiring TechCrunch for $30 million. That deal didn't go forward, we're hearing, because AOL worried about Arrington's mental stability and doubted whether the brand would survive if the mercurial blogger left. As one prospective buyer put it: "We're worried about buying it and him leaving, and we're worried about buying it and him staying." Before being acquired by CBS, CNET, too, took a long look at TechCrunch, only to decide too much of its value was tied up in the volatile blogger.
Arrington is ready to check out. He was recently heard talking about plans to retire to Hawaii; other Valley sources say he's been spending a lot of time up in Tahoe. It would be the height of irony if Arrington's willingness to let go was what finally greased the wheels for a deal.
But without Arrington, is TechCrunch worth anything? That's the question. And that's why everyone's still talking. Arrington, a master of the deal-gossip game, could well be floating these rumors himself — both talk of a deal with News Corp., and signs of his pending departure — to get AOL to come back to the table. Will it get his company sold? Maybe to AOL, a company gullible enough to buy an also-ran social network like Bebo. But not to News Corp., home to the ultimate media spinner.