Company News: Wal-Mart, Verizon, Time Warner, Microsoft, News Corp.

Wal-Mart Stores: Eyeing Amazon’s army of merchants

Wal-Mart Stores is anxious to find ways to compete with’s network of independent merchants, which sell millions of products on the online giant’s website. According to minutes obtained by Bloomberg News from a Feb. 1 officers’ meeting led by U.S. CEO Bill Simon, Walmart considers Amazon’s Marketplace platform the e-tailer’s “number one weapon.” Four years after starting its own version of Marketplace, Walmart has signed up only six outside merchants, compared with Amazon’s 2 million. A Walmart spokesman says its Marketplace “is a big part of our expansion.” The retailer continues to pour capital into physical stores, planning about 130 new supercenters in 2013.

Verizon Communications: Mulling an end to its Vodafone ties

Verizon Communications, eager to increase its control of its wireless joint venture with Vodafone Group, has weighed options that range from buying out Vodafone’s stake to a full merger of the two companies, say people familiar with the situation. Vodafone owns a 45 percent stake in Verizon Wireless, the most profitable and fastest-growing major mobile phone company in the U.S. The carrier added a record 2.1 million subscribers last quarter, eclipsing the growth of AT&T and other rivals.

Time Warner: Jettisoning its namesake

Time Warner plans to spin off its Time magazine business into a stand-alone public company, offloading its worst-performing major division. As part of the move, Laura Lang, CEO of Time Inc., will step down. The decision followed Time Warner’s attempt to sell some of its magazines to Meredith, publisher of Better Homes and Gardens, a person familiar with the talks said. In the end, it’s opting to get out of the magazine business altogether and expects the transaction to be completed by yearend. Meredith says it’s open to further talks.

News Corp.: Game on with ESPN

News Corp. will start a national cable sports network named Fox Sports 1 in August, just in time for college football season. The service, which will be available in more than 90 million pay-TV homes, joins a field dominated by Walt Disney’s ESPN. News Corp. has bought rights to air some college football as well as soccer’s World Cup in 2018 and 2022. It also owns at least 20 regional sports networks. Fox and other networks have turned to live programming like sports to draw viewers who can easily record other programs to watch later.

Microsoft: A European fine

Regulators in the European Union fined Microsoft €561 million ($731 million) for violating the terms of a previous settlement to give users a choice of Web browsers in addition to Internet Explorer. The world’s largest software maker agreed in 2009 to offer access to other browsers as part of a settlement to end more than 10 years of EU antitrust investigations. Microsoft acknowledged last July that because of an error, some 28 million computers running Windows 7 Service Pack 1 did not offer a choice of browsers.

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