Peter Kafka

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Web 2.0 Music Pioneer iLike Looking for Buyers

iLike, the Web start-up that made a name for itself by becoming Facebook’s de facto music service, is looking for a buyer, according to multiple sources. I’m told that iLike is actively soliciting a list of buyers that include RealNetworks and Ticketmaster, which already owns 25 percent of the company.

It’s conceivable that iLike, led by brothers Hadi and Ali Partovi, is simultaneously pursuing funding options. But my understanding is that much like competitive music service iMeem, which is also on the block, iLike’s executives and investors are worried about keeping the company afloat as a standalone entity. Delivering free music on the Web has so far proven to be a high-cost, low-revenue endeavor, and that’s a difficult path to choose in this environment.

My sources couldn’t tell me what sale price iLike is hoping to get. It has raised about $16 million in two years. Most of that came from Ticketmaster (TKTM), which has now split off from Barry Diller’s IAC and trades as standalone company. A smaller slug came from Bob Pittman’s Pilot Group, which has taken a stab at other Web music start-ups, including a recent investment in Project Playlist. I’ve asked the Partovis and their PR rep for comment, but haven’t heard back.

Ticketmaster’s existing ownership makes it an obvious buyer. The company also has a relationship with RealNetworks (RNWK), which began powering a free music service for iLike this summer. And while I don’t have confirmation that the two companies have actually talked, the third very obvious buyer would be Facebook, which is responsible for the company’s success to date.

iLike originally started out as a music discovery service that promoted the homegrown music found on, another Partovi brother music start-up. But it really hit its stride with the launch of Facebook’s open developer platform in the spring of 2007. Since then it’s become one Facebook’s most popular apps, with more than 5.4 million active monthly users.

That hasn’t translated into huge revenue: The company hasn’t expended much effort trying to sell advertising on Facebook, which is a challenging environment to begin with. And while it generates referral fees when it sends concertgoers to Ticketmaster, those sales haven’t been significant enough to register on the company’s SEC filings so far.

Now Facebook is looking to create its own music service, and it’s conceivable that iLike could step in and take on that role for the company. One big problem: Facebook wants to provide users with a service that gives them the ability to listen to songs in their entirety, à la MySpace Music. But Facebook doesn’t actually have licenses with the big labels that allow it do that. Instead, it provides users with 30-second clips.

All Things Digital’s Kara Swisher visited with Hadi Partovi this summer; below the two talk about iLike’s history and ambitions.