GlobalBrain spared NBCi chop

Christchurch-based search engine company NBCi New Zealand says it is one of the few of US giant NBC Internet's (NBCi) operations not being closed down.

Instead, the Christchurch arm's founder, Grant Ryan, says NBCi is to sell his company as "an ongoing concern, the technology and the team".

Ryan says NBCi is in the process of identifying potential buyers.

NBCi bought Ryan's company, GlobalBrain, and its intellectual property in mid-2000 in a multi-million dollar deal, and has since rolled out its search engine technology and later features across all its portal operations.

Broadcaster NBC, owned by General Electric, announced in the US on April 10 that it was buying back NBCi, which is listed on the Nasdaq and is 61% publicly-owned.

NBC officials say they are in the process of determining how NBCi's assets will be utilised, with a strategy for the web properties developed over the next several months.

Large chunks of the operation are to be closed down and its 300-strong staff radically reduced.

"Rather than continuing to operate at a significant loss, and having the value of NBCi continue to erode, we believe this transaction is in the best interest of NBCi's public stockholders," says chief Will Lansing.

When GlobalBrain was acquired, NBCi had 900 staff, but it has progressively laid off hundreds, blaming a weak advertising market and global downturn.

In contrast, NBCi has expanded the New Zealand arm's head count from 15 to 26, proving its worth, Ryan says.

NBC is one of the last broadcasting and media companies in the US to close down or scale back its internet operations. Walt Disney and News Corp have also reabsorbed their online units.

"It's hard for people over here to understand the magnitude of the downturn over there," Ryan says. "It was the same with the hype - the extent of that was never really understood."

Other domains MSNBC.com, CNBC and NBC.com are said to be unaffected by the NBCi closure. The transaction is expected to be completed some time toward mid-year.

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