TTYL: AOL's ICQ Instant Messaging Service May Be for Sale


AOL (AOL) is reportedly juggling several offers for its ICQ instant messaging service, as the online media company looks to pare down its assets and focus on generating content for its wide range of websites.

Binding offers have been submitted by Chinese Internet portal Tencent, Russian media holding company ProfMedia, and Russian Internet holding outfit Digital Sky Technologies (DST), according to a Reuters report citing Russian business publication Vedomosti.

AOL acquired the company in 1998 in a deal that called for $287 million in cash and another potential $120 million if certain performance metrics were met. According to the Vedomosti report, ICQ is valued at around $300 million.

Selling off ICQ would not only yield AOL more money in the bank but would also eliminate the task of operating two instant messaging brands. AOL's AIM instant messaging software is a big player in the U.S. Overseas, the New York-based company delivers ICQ technology with the help of local partners.

Talk of an ICQ hookup with Russian Internet Investment group DST has been circulating for months, but the Vedomosti report indicates it has become more serious. ProfMedia, meanwhile, is the largest diversified media holding company in Russia, with a presence in film, entertainment and the Internet.

Nearby Tencent, based in China, has its fingers in the Internet, mobile and telecom. The company touts its portal as one of the largest in China and it also operates an instant messaging service. During its fourth quarter, Tencent's active instant messaging user accounts increased 7.8% over the previous quarter to 522.9 million accounts, the company noted in its earnings report. And ICQ investment could bolster that effort.

A spokeswoman for AOL, the parent of DailyFinance, declined to comment on ICQ.

Discussion of an ICQ sale comes as AOL is weighing its options of shutting down its social networking site Bebo, or seeking to find it a buyer, according a company memo released Tuesday.

AOL has two quivers drawn in targeting its media focus. Question now is how soon will it pull back its bow.