Like CMP Media, which put itself on the block in February, Ziff-Davis last week declared itself for sale. The tech media company-which publishes 28 titles including PC Magazine, owns the Comdex computer trade shows and operates the ZDNet technology Web portal-said it retained Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. "to explore strategic alternatives to maximize shareholder value."
CMP Media, whose $920 million sale to United News & Media's Miller Freeman unit closed in June, significantly improved its shareholder value with its deal. Prior to going on the block, its stock was trading below $20 per share; Miller Freeman paid $39 per share.
Ziff-Davis hopes to provide similar results for one shareholder in particular: Tokyo-based Softbank, which owns more than 70% of the company and said it wants to focus its investment on pure Internet plays, such as Yahoo! and E*Trade, on which Softbank has made billions.
UP TO $30 PER SHARE
Mandana Hormozi, a publishing analyst with Lazard Freres & Co., said Ziff-Davis could be worth as much as $30 per share, even taking into account Ziff-Davis' $1.2 billion debt. Ziff-Davis was trading at about half that figure-$14.19 per share-just before its announcement.
Ms. Hormozi said she wouldn't be surprised if Ziff-Davis' properties were divided up among several suitors. She said there are six distinct units within the company: publications, Ziff-DavisNet, ZDTV, trade shows, education and consulting.
"They could sell everything in any combination you could come up with," she said.
In an internal memo to employees, Ziff-Davis Chairman-CEO Eric Hippeau echoed that idea: "We are looking for new strategic opportunities for all or some of our businesses. We do not know yet whether this will result in a change for the entire company or for a select set of our businesses."
Mentioned among the potential suitors are a handful of the usual suspects, including International Data Group, VNU, Penton Media, Advanstar Communications and Miller Freeman. Internet companies, such as ZDNet competitor CNET, may be a Ziff-Davis suitor, said Reed Phillips, managing partner of DeSilva & Phillips, a New York-based media investment banker.
One factor that might dampen a breakup sale is that Ziff-Davis has long trumpeted the strength of its integrated marketing, which offers advertisers the opportunity to market their products and services across a range of media. Splitting up Ziff-Davis's properties could weaken that selling point.
Mike Perlis, president of Ziff-Davis Publishing, said that wouldn't be the case.
"Ziff has agreements and contracts in place," he said. "All of those agreements