It’s widely seen as a joke of a social network these days but friend reconnection service Friends Reunited may be about to show that it isn’t a huge waste of investment money after all. The diamond in its rough may turn out to be its oft-forgotten sister site aimed at building users’ family trees. What’s more, a buyer may be announced by tomorrow morning.
Back in the days before Facebook, Friends Reunited was a popular service in the UK for helping old schoolfriends and work colleagues get back in touch with each other. Its initial business model was to allow free browsing of the site but to charge a small fee if you wanted to get in touch with anyone via the site. Then Facebook came along and did everything Friends Reunited did but in a slicker, cooler and more richly-featured package… for free. The fee for contacting users was dropped and new features have been added (they even added vanity URLs for profiles last week – where have we seen that before?) but it hasn’t been enough to stop many users defecting to Facebook.
Strong competition aside, the biggest joke was when British TV broadcaster ITV bought Friends Reunited for £120 million in 2005. At the time it was judged by many observers to be a vastly inflated price and that analysis has been proved correct thanks to ITV’s failure to capitalise on their invesment.
Friends Reunited has been up for sale since March and now The Guardian is reporting that it may actually be the less widely reported sister-site Genes Reunited that attracts a buyer. Other services like Ancestry.com dominate the online genaeology market, allowing users to piece together a family tree using the web. However, with a reported userbase of 9 million and a profitable income from subscription fees, it’s easy to see why Ancestry.com or other competitors like Familysearch.org may be up for buying Genes Reunited at a bargain price.
With ITV’s half-year financial report due to be published tomorow morning, talks for selling Friends Reunited and Genes Reunited are said to be continuing right down to the wire. As with most other commercial broadcasters, ITV has been hit hard by a fall in advertising revenue and a shot in the arm through offloading its dumb purchase of an internet startup would be incredibly welcome to ITV shareholders.
One thing’s for sure, ITV isn’t going to get anything approaching the the £120 million they paid for Friends Reunited and its related sites four years ago. Imagine just how different ITV’s finacial prospects would look now if it had bought Facebook instead!
UPDATE: Publisher of ‘The Beano’ comic, DC Thompson, has boughtFriends Reunited for £25 million. What it plans to do with the site is a mystery, but we await their next move with interest.