News Corp., Softbank prep MySpace Japan

Deal for site expected this week

TOKYO -- A deal to set up a Japanese version of the hugely popular MySpace social-networking Internet site is close to being signed, bringing together Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and domestic Internet service firm Softbank.

The agreement is likely to be agreed to this week, according to Japanese business daily the Nihon Keizai, with the two companies each providing half of the ¥1 billion ($8.48 million) initial investment.

A spokesman for Softbank said he was aware that Murdoch is presently in Japan but refused to comment on the possibility of a meeting between the head of News Corp. and Masayoshi Son, president of Softbank.

"We have had dozens of calls today about this issue but we cannot say anything at all," said Takeaki Nuuki, a Softbank official.

News Corp. purchased MySpace in 2005 in a buy-out of Los Angeles-based Intermix media for $580 million. It clearly sees opportunities for growth in Japan, where networking sites are becoming increasingly popular. The new venture would go head-to-head with domestic outfits such as Mixi Inc., which had some 4 million members as of May.

MySpace is the world's fourth most popular English-language Web site and had about 106 million accounts as of early September. It reportedly attracts 230,000 new registrations a day.

Yahoo Japan Corp., which is a subsidiary of Softbank, already offers social networking functions but the Japanese corporation has not gotten involved in the operations of the Web site.