Warner Bros. is in advanced negotiations to acquire the popular movie ratings website Flixster, signaling the studio's big push into social networking.
The Time Warner Inc.-owned studio is now the most likely buyer of privately owned Flixster Inc. and would pay close to $90 million in cash, according to people familiar with the matter.
San Francisco-based Flixster allows consumers to rate and comment on movies, as well as see what others think of films using social networking tools. Much of its activity is done through a heavily downloaded smartphone application.
Should the purchase close, it would give Warner Bros. access to an audience of more than 20 million registered users as it seeks new ways to promote and distribute its movies online. Warner recently became the first studio to start renting movies through the social network Facebook. On Monday the studio added five films — two "Harry Potter" sequels, "Inception," "Life as We Know It" and "Yogi Bear" — to its initial Facebook offering, "The Dark Knight."
Because Flixster's primary business is a database of billions of movie ratings, its potential ownership by Hollywood's largest studio could cause a conflict in the eyes of consumers. A person close to Warner said separating that side of the business from any other initiatives the studio pursues with Flixster would be crucial after an acquisition.
The acquisition talks are being driven by Warner Bros.' home entertainment group, which is led by President Kevin Tsujihara, as well as the studio's digital distribution president, Thomas Gewecke.
About 20% of the equity in Flixster is controlled by News Corp., owner of the movie and television studio 20th Century Fox. News Corp. received the stake in exchange for the reviews compilation website Rotten Tomatoes, which it sold to Flixster last year.
Yahoo Inc. had previously been in discussions to acquire Flixster, but has dropped out, one person familiar with the situation confirmed.
Spokesmen for Warner Bros., Flixster and News Corp. declined to comment.
News of the talks was first reported by AllThingsDigital.