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ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Media giant News Corp aims to build its own social-gaming business as valuations of games companies, such as FarmVille maker Zynga skyrocket, its head of digital media said on Wednesday.
Jonathan Miller also said News Corp's The Daily, a newspaper designed for Apple's iPad, had had hundreds of millions of downloads since its launch in the United States last month. It will begin charging readers for subscriptions next week.
Miller said News Corp's social-games drive would not center on its social entertainment site MySpace, whose sale or spin-off the company has begun exploring, but on Making Fun and IGN, two small companies it has bought in the past few years.
"Social gaming has a business model," he told the Abu Dhabi Media Summit. "People who play FarmVille actually spend real money to buy virtual food or whatever it may be for their pig. Most people don't but enough do so that it's a real business."
Asked about potential interest in Zynga, whose games are played on Facebook, Miller said: "It's a little expensive, that particular company, at the present." He said: "We're trying to build it up organically."
Zynga has been reported to have held talks with potential investors that could lead to it raising $250 million in new funding, potentially giving it a valuation of between $7 billion and $9 billion.
"We're putting a toe and then a foot in the water and we'll see how that goes," Miller said, adding that News Corp could use its film and television titles to attract players.
News Corp, whose chief executive is Rupert Murdoch, owns businesses ranging from broadcaster Fox to the Wall Street Journal newspaper to movie unit Twentieth Century Fox Film.
News Corp bought MySpace in 2005 for $580 million. The move was seen as a visionary step at the time for a traditional media company, but the site faltered badly after early success.
"We're in the process of figuring out strategically what to do. Do we get partners in it, does it turn itself into another business, or is there an outright scale?" Miller said of MySpace. "We're just right now really starting that in earnest."
Miller said The Daily was attracting much younger readers than newspapers in general, and that they typically spent 45 minutes reading it compared with 7 to 11 minutes for online newspapers on average in the United States.
"We have our beginning moment of truth next when we start to ask people to get out their wallets," he said.
He added that The Daily would likely go on sale in Europe later in the first half of this year.
Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Louise Heavens