Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. on Sept. 8 made another step toward becoming an Internet powerhouse, unveiling an agreement to acquire online community and entertainment firm IGN Entertainment for about $

NEW YORK (The Hollywood Reporter) -- Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. on Sept. 8 made another step toward becoming an Internet powerhouse, unveiling an agreement to acquire online community and entertainment firm IGN Entertainment for about $650 million in cash.

IGN and its network of Web sites, which include movie-focused IGN FilmForce and Rotten Tomatoes, videogame favorite GameSpy and male lifestyle destination AskMen.com, will become part of News Corp.'s recently created Fox Interactive Media unit.

With the IGN deal, News Corp. brings to about $1.5 billion the amount it has spent on Web acquisitions in recent months. Murdoch has said he has earmarked about $2 billion for deals in the online space, but industry observers say more dealmaking is likely to come, with the entertainment conglomerate known to be particularly hungry for a search-engine provider.

News Corp. has of late announced deals to take over Intermix Media and its popular MySpace.com online community as well as college sports destination Scout Media.

The IGN agreement will add about 28 million unique monthly online users for News Corp., bringing its total to nearly 70 million. Total monthly page views for the firm will now amount to more than 12 billion. "This would place News Corp. fourth in total page views, behind Yahoo!, Time Warner and MSN but ahead of eBay and Google," Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen said.

The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter. IGN CEO Mark Jung will continue in his role and report to Fox Interactive Media president Ross Levinsohn.

News Corp. chairman and CEO Murdoch said that the Sept. 8 deal goes "a long way toward achieving two of our key strategic objectives in our efforts to become a leading and profitable Internet presence." Those objectives are significantly enhancing the media giant's online reach and leveraging its competencies in the news, sports and entertainment areas.

News Corp.'s combined sites will now provide "a powerful cross-promotional opportunity for Fox's television and film content and enable the company to more efficiently introduce new products and services using its enhanced Web presence," News Corp. said in a statement Sept. 8, adding that IGN also provides technology for online gameplay in videogames.

While several analysts called the price tag for IGN rich, many lauded News Corp.'s commitment to expanding its online stature fast. "While other major media companies are simply extending their traditional media properties online, News Corp. is aggressively 'buying' its way into a more comprehensive Internet strategy," said Richard Greenfield, analyst at Fulcrum Global Partners.

Still, some, including Greenfield, said they are still not 100% sure what Murdoch's broader vision for the online business is.

"Online community, with a heavy skew toward adults 18-34 (perfectly in sync with the Fox network targeted demo), appears to be the centerpiece of News Corp.'s online strategy," the analyst said before adding that "the 'wrapper' to News Corp.'s strategy is still unclear."

Internally, the latest thinking on online strategy is set to become clearer this weekend, when News Corp. brass from the giant's various divisions and around the world meet in Carmel, Calif., for a Web strategy retreat that follows a similar gathering earlier this year.

Murdoch recently said he has had his eyes on a search-engine acquisition, which could add a video search focus, to News Corp.'s Web strategy. "We presume that would be the basis for tying its Internet strategy together in a portal format," Greenfield said.

Among the search engines that industry observers believe could be on News Corp.'s radar are Blinkx, LookSmart and Mamma.

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