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Rupert Murdoch's

News Corp.

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, which until recently had a wobbly Internet presence, now testifies to the hugeness of the online opportunity.

Speaking at a Citigroup media conference in Phoenix on Monday, Murdoch said the company will continue to build its Web side, following last year's purchases of IGN Entertainment for $650 million and for $580 million. "The Internet is the ultimate provider of choice," said Murdoch.

Murdoch says that some day soon, everyone will have access to a computer and the Internet, and that this universal broadband access will only accelerate trends recently warming the likes of


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and cooling print-heavy outfits like

New York Times

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Murdoch cited the recent "flat" results among traditional media properties as a wake-up call to get into the game. He went on to say that "on its current trajectory," he anticipates the News Corp. online properties will generate $350 million to $400 million in revenue in 2007.

Recent Internet buys underscore a new reality for media companies that also boast traditional assets. Aggregating a big audience is one thing, but making money off it is quite another.

Asked about his Internet strategy, Murdoch says there are now 47 million people on, and "it's growing faster than ever at about 1 million new people per week."

To grow the offering, Murdoch hopes to make it "more sticky" when it soon offers free video downloads, of which he figures there will be millions. He hopes to follow that shortly with instant messaging and voice services too.

"There are unbelievable numbers of not just teen-agers spending a lot of time on myspace, these are the people who are reading less newspapers and who are watching less TV," Murdoch says.

The same can surely be said of


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Neopets online destination and its branded MTV Networks vehicles.

From "pay to play" and enhanced ads on the gaming front to selling ads around online traffic of social networkers, there is gold to be mined in these audiences. Both Viacom and News Corp. now have platforms that include sophisticated online communities of gamers, socializers and aficionados of everything from A to Z.

Neopets, while skewing younger, has enormous potential given its usage figures. Some 111 million-plus users own things called Neopets around the world, according to the site. Among News Corp. Internet properties there is an aggregate audience of some 70 million users, close to 50 million of them on talking about the music they love, their favorite hairstyles and which user they intend to "socialize" with on Friday night.

While no one has fully figured out how to monetize online audiences of that size, a look at the attractive demographics of or Neopets tells at least part of the story: It's a virtual orgy of potential for media companies.

The sites' raison d'etre -- they are an evolutionary form of social networking and fun games -- is what is attracting media hard-chargers. The old theater adage that you need to put bums in seats has ceded largely to the notion that the bums are on the Internet.

Avatars (online identities) or player characters are Web-based platforms for people to meet, discuss and direct users to stores, movies, television shows, you name it. People also trade, buy and sell virtual property regularly and play highly interactive games. The popularity of socializing and gaming through these sites goes beyond the Xbox and several giant leaps further than water cooler chat.

Investors of a more mature nature don't need to understand the ins and outs of these virtual worlds. But the News Corp. and Viacom acquisitions show that the big players have landed firmly on Mars and they're finding there's plenty of life there.