ViacomCBS Reaches Deal to Sell CNET for $500 Million to Marketing Firm Red Ventures

ViacomCBS is offloading CNET Media Group in a $500 million deal with digital-marketing company Red Ventures, which announced the deal Monday.

Under the deal, CNET Media Group EVP and GM Mark Larkin, along with the unit’s senior execs, will remain with Red Ventures following the acquisition. The CNET sale is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2020. CNET Media Group has 980 employees and “our plan is to grow CNET in ways unforeseen,” a Red Ventures rep told Variety. She declined to address whether the company anticipates any layoffs following the deal close, saying that “right now we’re focusing on how we grow.”

CBS acquired CNET Networks in 2008 for $1.8 billion. In addition to the flagship CNET consumer-tech site, the CNET Media Group also houses brands including GameSpot, the Metacritic reviews-aggregation site, TVGuide.com, Chowhound, Roadshow, and B2B tech site ZDNet.

“I believe that the combination of Red Ventures’ customer-experience platform and CNET Media Group’s rich content and deep editorial expertise greatly benefits both our audiences and our partners,” Larkin said in a statement. “Red Ventures shares our vision and is committed to realizing the full potential of our portfolio of world-class brands.”

Founded in 2000, Red Ventures says it has 3,000 employees in the U.S., the U.K. and Brazil. The Fort Mill, S.C.-based company owns and operates digital brands including Bankrate, the Points Guy, Healthline, MyMove and Allconnect.com.

Red Ventures’ existing brands operate in the home services, health, finance, travel, education and entertainment verticals. The addition of CNET Media Group “accelerates” Red Ventures’ entry into new verticals, including consumer technology and gaming, according to the company.

“Over the last 25 years CNET Media Group has built a dynamic portfolio of brands with well-earned authority on such topics as consumer tech and gaming that play an increasingly important role in people’s lives,” Ric Elias, Red Ventures CEO and co-founder, said in announcing the deal. “Red Ventures is eager to invest in CNET Media Group’s growth with more personalized consumer experiences that will reinvigorate CNET Media Group’s brands and unlock unprecedented opportunity for all.”

The CNET deal continues Red Ventures’ roll-up and partnership strategy to expand its consumer-facing footprint over the past three years. Earlier this year, Time Inc. announced a partnership with Red Ventures to launch a new personal-finance site called NextAdvisor. In 2019, Red Ventures acquired Healthline Media, which includes Healthline.com, Greatist.com and Medical News Today (MNT). In 2017, Red Ventures acquired the Bankrate personal-finance website for $1.24 billion, a deal that encompassed the Points Guy and CreditCards.com.

Since the merger of Viacom and CBS was completed last year, ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish has said the media conglomerate was evaluating selling non-core assets. Earlier this year, Bakish said the company was seeking to sell book publisher Simon & Schuster, which analysts say could fetch upwards of $1.5 billion. Bakish previously said ViacomCBS also exploring a sale of Black Rock, the office building in midtown Manhattan which has served as CBS’s headquarters since the mid-1960s.

CNET first launched in 1994, in the early days of the internet boom. The namesake site covers technology, science and culture with news, reviews, buying guides, features and commentary, and operates a Spanish-language version, CNET en Español.

Investors in privately held Red Ventures include General Atlantic (which made a strategic investment in the company in 2010) and Silver Lake Partners (which acquired a stake in 2015 for $250 million).

Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias co-founded the company 20 years ago and managed to shepherd it through the dot-com bust. In 2009, Elias was a survivor of the crash-landing of US Airways Flight 1549, known as the “Miracle on the Hudson,” which he has said changed his life and led to his 2011 TED Talk, “3 Things I Learned While My Plane Crashed.” Elias, a native of Puerto Rico, graduated from Boston College and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

For the CNET Media Group sale, Evercore is serving as financial adviser and K&L Gates LLP is acting as legal adviser to Red Ventures. Citi is serving as financial adviser and Shearman & Sterling LLP is acting as legal adviser to ViacomCBS.

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