United News & Media is to invest £370 million in its internet businesses over the next two years with a view to a possible flotation within the next 18 months.
This investment is aimed at putting United's US and European businesses online and developing further those that are already on the internet. Some £270 million will be invested in Europe, while it will invest £100 million in North American activities, principally CMP.net, United's online high-tech magazine publishing business.
United also announced that it is bringing together all of its European internet assets into a single new media division. The new division will operate in four business areas: internet service provision/portals; business-to-consumer activities; business-to-business markets; and an e-services operation. Each area will receive heavy financial investment and will be led by managing directors, reporting in to the new media division.
It confirmed that partial flotations of all or part of the new media division are also possible over the course of the next 18 months. Dresdner Kleinwort Benson and Merrill Lynch International have been appointed to act as advisors on the potential flotation of either the New Media Division or its constituent parts.
The portal business will be based around LineOne, the 50:50 joint venture with BT. In the business-to-consumer area, United intends to invest £130 million in developing properties such as dotmusic.com, the UK's leading music site, which generates over 14 million page impressions per month.
Other areas to receive substantial investment will include: uTravel, the online package holidays business; classified advertising based around the Exchange & Mart brand; Rapture, the youth scene business; and Megastar.co.uk, the Daily Star lads-oriented portal.
In business-to-business within Europe, the initial focus will be on areas where United already has established positions such as entertainment technology, music, building, interiors and agriculture will all be taken online. About £50 million will be invested in these markets.
The e-services operation will build on United's strengths in business information services such as market research and news distribution through NOPi, PRNi, OIT and TSMSi.
Clive Hollick, chief executive of United, said, "This significant investment will build on the established success of our existing web businesses, while the strong management focus and backing will allow us to take market-leading positions in many more areas."