CNET bathes in red ink

But optimistic

CNET, the world's biggest IT portal, blames "short-term pressure" in the technology marketplace for falling sales, and losses in Q1.

On a pro-forma basis, (ie. aggregating ZDNet's sales in Q1 last year with its own to provide a meaningful comparison with Q1 this time around), sales fell to $75.2 million, compared to net revenues of $92.8 million in Q1 2000.

This produced an EBITDA loss of $11.7 million compared with an EBITDA profit of $6.7m in Q1 2000.

It's not so easy to see how well a company is doing on EBITDA - earnings before interest, tax, depreciation - as this does not tell you how much money the company is making, or losing, or has in the bank.

CNET helpfully tells us that its adjusted loss, "excluding goodwill amortization, business integration expenses, realized gains (losses) on investments, and income taxes, was $18.2 million versus pro forma earnings of $2.5 million in Q1, 2000.

Now we come to the most meaningful figure - net loss And this is huge - $316.6 million in Q1, against a net loss of $167.5 million in Q1, 2000.

A major part of the loss is a non-cash write-off of $113.2m to reflect torpedoed valuations on some of the company's investments. There's also a relatively small charge of $4.7m to cover redundancy payments, post-ZDNET merger.

CNET has cut operating costs by 15 per cent, post-merger. But there's probably plenty more savings to be had in consolidating what were two large companies. By sheer size and market position, CNET will be better placed to benefit from the technology market upturn than its rivals.

The company punts out 40 million page views a day to a globabl audience estimated at 60 million people a month. It had 1,200 paying customers in Q1, it's got one of the biggest comparison shopping engines, and its customer reach means that plenty of referral deals with merchants.

One thing the CNET/ZDNET model has lacked in the past, though, is finesse. Where Internet.com and newcomer TechTarget.com, or closer to home Silicon.com, promise their advertisers much better click-through rates through precision targeting, CZDNET is, or has been, a bit of a blunderbuss.

CNET's $23m purchase of Techrepublic.com, a community site for MIS professionals owned briefly by Gartner, in Q1 shows that the company is working up its targeting capabilities too. ®

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