Archive for November, 2008

Digital Media VC

Posted in Deals, Digital Media, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2008 by Dave Liu

Waterfront Media Raised $20 Million — New York-based online health media company, has raised $20 million in fifth-round funding, according to a regulatory filing. No investor information was disclosed. The company had previously raised around $42 million in venture capital and debt funding from Scale Venture Partners, Foundation Capital, Rho Ventures, Time Warner Ventures, BEV Capital, Neocarta Ventures and Hercules Technology Growth Capital.

Rave Wireless Raised $7 Million — New York–based provider of mobile phone programs for colleges and universities, has raised $7 million in Series D funding, according to a regulatory filing. Listed shareholders include Bain Capital Ventures, Sigma Partners and RRE Ventures. The company previously raised around $35 million, including an $18 million Series C round last year led by Trilogy Equity Partners.

Blip.tv Raised $5 Million — New York–based online television network, has raised $5.2 million in Series B funding led by Bain Capital Ventures, according to a regulatory filing. The round was originally announced last month, but without a dollar amount.

The Mechanical Zoo Raised $2 Million — San Francisco-based social search startup, has raised $2 million in convertible promissory note funding led by August Capital, according to a regulatory filing. David Hornick of August has taken a board seat.

DigitalArbor Raised $5 Million — Cohasset, Mass.-based provider of back-end production services to the digital advertising, marketing and content/communications markets, has raised $5 million in Series A funding. Flybridge Capital Partners led the round, with partner Jeff Bussgang joining the company’s board of directors.

VibeAgent Raised $3 Million — Charlottesville, Va.-based hotel search engine, has raised $3 million in Series A funding from individual angels.

Blyk Raised $40 Million — Finland-based mobile network for young people, has raised €40 million in new VC funding. No additional details were disclosed for the round, which was announced on the company’s blog. Company shareholders include Sofinnova Partners.

Boxee Inc. Raised $4 Million — New York-based developer of a “social” media center, has raised $4 million in Series A funding from Spark Capital and Union Square Ventures. Bijan Sabet of Spark and Fred Wilson of USV will join the company’s board of directors.

Easou Raised $12 Million — Chinese mobile search company, has raised $12 million in third-round funding. iD TechVentures and AXA Private Equity co-led the round.

Digital Media M&A

Posted in Deals, Digital Media, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2008 by Dave Liu

Adconion Media Group Acquired KTV Digital Media — Adconion, a global online advertising network, has acquired KTV Digital Media (a.k.a. RedLever), a Santa Monica, Calif.-based production studio, content distribution network and operator of video destination sites. No financial terms were disclosed. Adconion earlier this year raised the equivalent of $80 million in Series C funding from Index Ventures and Wellington Partners.

Publicis Acquires Tribal Agency, Buying Into LatAm Digital Marketing — Big Four ad agency Publicis is now buying into Latin American digital advertising, acquiring Sao Paulo-based Tribal to add to its Digitas online ad group. Digitas CEO Laura Lang said Tribal is “fundamental” to expanding in the growing region. Publicis bought Digitas back in 2006 and has grafted on various international digital acquisitions in the UK, India, Singapore, China and its native France, so this will be a foothold across the Atlantic. Tribal, which has 100 staff, counts Philips and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) amongst its clients. Publicis is resisting the urge to rename Tribal “Digitas LatAm”; the agency will retain its name as well as its CEO Pierre Mantovani and creative director Renato Fabri. In Brazil, the ad market grew 25.1 percent in 2007, up from 2006’s 19.4 percent, outstripping the economy, according to ZenithOptimedia, which expects 15.4 percent growth this year while other international markets’ growth slows down.

Local Online Advertiser WebVisible Buys Adapt Technologies — WebVisible, a provider of local online ad tools, has acquired search marketer Adapt Technologies. Terms were not disclosed. The Irvine, Calif.-based WebVisible has raised $17 million in venture funding over the past three years, most recently securing $12 million in a second round from Redpoint Ventures in March. WebVisible markets software to small businesses with the promise of better management of their online ad buys. The company’s management tools operate across a range of platforms, including search engines, which is where Adapt Technologies comes in. Among Adapt Technologies’ services, WebVisible hopes to make greater use of its cost-per-action tracking system.

M2 Global Ltd. has acquired the assets of iKobo — Atlanta-based provider of online electronic payment and remittance services. No financial terms were disclosed. IKobo had previously discontinued operations, after having received over $13 million in VC funding, from firms like Total Technology Ventures, Council Ventures, WS Investments LLC, Silicon Alley Venture Partners, Greenhill Capital Partners Global Bank of Commerce.

Macrovision Sells Off eMeta Division To Atypon Systems — Macrovision, fresh off its $1 sale of TV Guide magazine, has now sold off its information content access and subscription software division eMeta to Atypon Systems, the e-publishing software firm based in Santa Clara, CA. Terms were not disclosed. MVSN bought eMeta in 2006, for about $35 million. This sale is likely nowhere near that amount, considering how MVSN is interested in disposing off non core assets on the cheap. eMeta has been part of MVSN’s discontinued line for better part of this year. Through this acquisition, Atypon has expanded its technical team and added a publishing services consulting team to the company’s existing proposition.

Articles of the Day

Posted in Digital Media, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2008 by Dave Liu

Microsoft Considers Debt Offering — Microsoft is considering selling bonds for the first time in its history, Bloomberg reports, a curious move considering the software giant’s $20 billion cash hoard. An SEC filing noted that the company is now free to issue debt at any time. What does Microsoft need to raise capital for? Silicon Alley Insider reminds us that the software giant sought to at least partially pay for a Yahoo acquisition by issuing debt. Of course, that deal fell apart, leaving no obvious reason as to why the company would continue with the registration process. Is Microsoft preparing another bid for Yahoo? Not if you’ve been listening to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently. Maybe Microsoft wants to buy Salesforce.com or Facebook, or maybe both? SAI thinks the company is most likely preparing a massive stock repurchasing program. At $17.53 per share, or 9 times trailing earnings, Microsoft thinks its stock is undervalued. Brad Lutz, vice president of investment research at Declaration Management & Research LLC, says a bond offering from Microsoft would be in high demand among investors, who are anxious to find sound investments outside the realm of finance. “Non-financials have generally received a warm reception by the investment-grade capital markets,” Lutz said. “There’s certainly demand for higher-quality issuers.”

Vivendi CEO: No Decision Yet On Whether To Sell Stake In NBCU; GE’s Immelt: ‘Would Buy In Heartbeat’ — Vivendi SA has yet to decide whether it will keep its 20 percent stake in NBC Universal or exercise its annual option to sell, CEO Jean-Bernard Levy told analysts at a Morgan Stanley conference in Barcelona today. According to Bloomberg, Levy said: “Right now, considering the general expectations for the value of the assets, the dividend flow we get from NBCU is very good. … We will have to make a decision to optimize the proceeds that we get from NBC Universal (NYSE: GE). We will probably find a better allocation of assets at the right time, in the right environment.’’ This may not be the time given NBCU’s decent performance in a rough environment but he left the window wide open: “We will have to make the decision in the next two to three weeks, so you will hear about it shortly.’’ The deadline is in early December. Vivendi has an annual option through 2016 to call for an IPO to sell the stake; GE has the right to pre-empt that by buying it. Immelt told Bloomberg earlier this week that GE would do just that: “They have been a terrific partner. I’m not anxious to do it because they have been a good partner, but I would do it in a heartbeat.’’

Yahoo Remains In Talks With Time Warner About Buying AOL — Yahoo, the Sunnyvale, California Internet company, remains in talks about buying Time Warner’s (NYSE:TWX) AOL unit, reported the Boston Globe. The report, citing a newswire, reported people familiar with the matter said executives from both companies have met in the past few weeks and are negotiating over a deal. Time Warner would give Yahoo AOL’s advertising business in exchange for a stake in the combined company, according to the report. The report noted that differences between both sides still exist. Yahoo has a market capitalization of USD 12.4bn. Source: mergermarket.

Q3 Online Ad Revs Rise 11 Percent—Less Than Half Q307 Growth Rate: IAB — Considering the economic meltdown of the past few weeks, the fact that online ad revenues grew 11 percent in Q3 would seem to be reason to celebrate. But comparing the latest figures from the Interactive Advertising Bureau to its Q307 report shows how much growth has slowed. While online ad spending approached $5.9 billion this past quarter, in Q307, when the IAB said revenues hit $5.2 billion, it had gained 25.3 percent over the prior year. Although online ad dollars had already been slowing last year consider the difference from Q306, when web-based advertising was up 33 percent. Flat revenues: Compared to the other two quarters this year, online ad spending is dead flat, said the report, which the IAB partnered with PriceWaterhouseCoopers on. For example, in Q2, online ad dollars climbed 12.8 percent. Looking at the first nine months of the year at least, revenues totaled $17.3 billion, up from $15.2 billion in the same period a year ago, for a 13.8 percent gain. Again, for the sake of perspective, in Q307, the IAB reported that the first nine months of the year grew 26 percent year-over-year.

Google Unveils Search Personalization Tools — Google on Thursday unveiled new personalization tools that allow users to re-rank and edit search results. The SearchWiki tools let anyone logged into a Google account move results up or down, delete them entirely, or add personal notes through markers that appear next to each entry. The changes do not affect anyone else’s search experience, although users can click a separate link to see a view that reflects changes made by other SearchWiki users. Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of search products and user experience, tells The Wall Street Journal that the tools are particularly useful for searches that users do repeatedly. Someone who frequently searches for medical reference materials, for example, would be able to eliminate results they haven’t found useful in the past.

As Economy Slows, Facebook Hits The Accelerator — As the economic outlook worsens, most Silicon Valley tech startups are cutting costs, but not Facebook, says BusinessWeek. The social networking giant is pressing ahead with aggressive plans for growth. As Facebook investor and board member Peter Thiel says, “This is not the time for tech companies to be cutting back; this is the time to be hitting the accelerator.” What does that mean, exactly? According to the report, Facebook will continue to go to great lengths to keep user growth high in tough times. This means hiring aggressively, hitting the M&A trail (possibly), and continuing to roll out new ad platforms. Despite the site’s growing development costs, engineers are working on versions in languages like Xhosa, Tagalong and French Canadian to corner niche audiences. “We’re in this game not just for five or 10 years,” says Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. “We’re in it for 20 to 30 years.”

Articles of the Day

Posted in Digital Media, News with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2008 by Dave Liu

Microsoft’s Ballmer: Read My Lips—No Bid For Yahoo — In case you didn’t believe him the first 20 times, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer repeated today at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting that he has no intention of making another offer for Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO). Ballmer’s words, reported by MarketWatch: “Let me be as clear as I think I’ve tried to be publicly: We are done with all acquisition discussions with Yahoo. We have moved on.” Ballmer also repeated that a potential search deal could be “an interesting opportunity.” Not clear whether he means acquiring Yahoo’s search business, as he tried to do after the full-monty bid failed, or some other arrangement. Meanwhile, Yahoo’s stock price, boosted by the notion that Jerry Yang’s departure as CEO signaled a Ballmer reversal, is coming back down, dropping more than 17 percent to $9.57 as I type.

WebMD, QualityHealth Parent Cancel $50 Million-Plus Acquisition; Ad Pact, Minority Interest Instead — Some consolidation unwinding in the health content area and another deal that won’t happen for WebMD … WebMD Health Corp. and Marketing Technology Solutions, the owner of QualityHealth.com, have “mutually terminated” the acquisition of MTS, a deal announced in September for $50 million in cash plus a possible $25 million earn-out. Instead, WebMD has signed an ad services pact with MTS and acquired a minority preferred interest. WebMD will sell some of QualityHealth.com’s ads and provide “limited access” to some of its own inventory.

Google Pulls the Plug On Lively — Google’s “me too” virtual world Lively will be dead by the end of the year—just six months after it launched. It was almost inevitable though, as Google (NSDQ: GOOG) debuted Lively well after the virtual world frenzy had simmered down. The service also had to compete with established worlds like There.com, IMVU and even themed properties like MTV’s Virtual Laguna Beach. Lively traffic was marginal at best (via Compete stats), and given the state of the economy, even Google couldn’t afford to devote resources to a fledgling project. The company admitted as much in an official blog post: It has been a tough decision, but we want to ensure that we prioritize our resources and focus more on our core search, ads and apps business. Any guesses on which other Google projects might be on the bubble? Google Base?

Blinkx Reboots Bid For Ad Net MIVA, New All-Cash Offer — Blinkx isn’t taking no for an answer. Despite dropping its pursuit of pay-per-click ad network MIVA last month after being rebuffed, it’s now restarted the reverse-takeover bid after recording strong earnings last week. At $0.55 per share ($19 million), the new bid is far less than the $1.20 ($41 million) first offered back in August, but is still 108 percent up on MIVA’s Tuesday close of $0.26 and comes in all-cash. MIVA’s share price has tanked by 85 percent this year and the outfit last week raised a $10 million credit facility after seeing Q3 losses widen from $3.3 million to $10.5 million. Blinkx said the buy is still attractive to shareholders “in light of issues in the MIVA business and current market conditions; however, because of MIVA’s continued loss-making performance and rapidly declining cash position, time is of the essence”.

Dow Closes Below 8,000 For First Time In Five Years; ContentNextDex Drops To Lowest Since ‘07 Launch — The Dow, with its first sub-8,000 close in five years, wasn’t the only index with a record-you-don’t-want day: the ContentNextDex, our own index of media, tech, mobile and entertainment stocks, dropped nearly 6 percent to 507.32—the lowest close since we launched it officially in September 2007. Compared with the year’s high of 1,076.02, that’s a staggering 47.68 percent loss year to date. The ContentNextDex performance hovered between the Dow’s 5 percent drop to 7,997 and the S&P 500’s loss of 6.12 percent. ContentNexDex is a flood of red with Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) snugly in the top five losers thanks to Steve Ballmer’s most recent public repudiation, down 20.8 percent to $9.14. Media General (NYSE: MEG) lost nearly 30 percent of what was left of its value, closing at $2.96. Fellow newspaper publisher McClatchy (NYSE: MNI) wasn’t far behind, down nearly 22 percent to $1.51. Together, the combined market cap doesn’t come close to $200 million—$152.8 million to be exact. Sirius XM (NSDQ: SIRI) Radio is close to non-existence at 16 cents per share with a market cap of $515 million. In all, 30 stocks—just under one third of ContentNextDex—closed with double-digit losses.

eHarmony Offers Matchmaking To Gays, Lesbians — Online dating service eHarmony will start a matchmaking service for lesbian and gay singles to settle a discrimination complaint in New Jersey. The agreement between the company and New Jersey Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division also calls for eHarmony to pay $50,000 to the state and $5,000 to a resident, Eric McKinley, who brought the complaint. The new service, Compatible Partners, will debut next March and will offer free six-month memberships to the first 10,000 people to register within one year.

Articles of the Day

Posted in Digital Media, News with tags , , , , , , , on November 19, 2008 by Dave Liu

Life Photo Archive Goes Live On Google; Advertising To Follow — The never-ending effort to make every possible cent from Life magazine continues with today’s launch of the Life Photo Archive on Google (NSDQ: GOOG) a project nearly two years in the making. The 10 million-plus images—many of them iconic and 97 percent not available to the public before—will show up in searches through Google or directly through http://images.google.com/hosted/life, providing consumers with the kind of access that once was unimaginable. But Time Inc. and Google are looking beyond the cool factor to the revenue potential: Time Inc. wants to drive traffic to the upcoming Life.com joint venture with Getty Images (NYSE: GYI), while Google hopes to finally crack the problems of making money through image search. Time Inc. execs aren’t commenting on advertising but I’ve confirmed that the deal with Google includes revenue sharing for advertising. No confirmation, though, on when that will kick in.

Ziff Davis To Close PCMag Print; Focus on Online; Still Looking For Options For Gaming Division — Ziff Davis, the tech/gaming media company that recently exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is now taking the brave but inevitable step of closing down the print version of PCMag to focus its energy on its growing PCMag online network of sites, led by flagship PCmag.com. The magazine, which was started in 1982, has a storied history, but its print base eroded over the years as its core brand of journalism—news you can use while shopping for computers—moved online. It cut back from bi-weekly to monthly earlier this year. PCMag, which literally invented the idea of comparative hardware and software reviews, at one time during the 80s averaged about 400 pages an issue, with some issues breaking the 500- and even 600-page marks, according to this Wikipedia history.

Online Video Cannibalizing TV Consumption — A new IBM study reveals that online video is cannibalizing television consumption. The poll of 2,800 people in six countries found that 76% have viewed video online and that 45% do so regularly. About 15% of those who watch online videos say they watch “slightly less” TV than they used to, while 36% say they watch “significantly less” TV as a result of their online video viewing. Indeed, “place-shifting alternatives may be changing consumer couch-potato behavior,” the study claims. IBM polled 2,800 people in six countries for the study. Other findings were that people definitely prefer the ad-supported model to paying for content. Of those who watch online video, a whopping 70% said they prefer the ad-supported approach, though they specify that commercials be viewed either before or after the video clip runs in its entirety. Also, nearly 60% of respondents said they were willing to provide advertisers with personal information in exchange for something of value, like discounts on products, frequent flier points, or free music videos.

DriverTV Launches Ad Network — With the help of minority-stakeholder NBC, auto-focused Web site and VOD channel DriverTV has launched a new content and ad network. The network, which features the DriverTV’s proprietary “Virtual Showroom Experience” videos, lets publishers and advertisers pair targeted overlay and display ads with its targeted content. The network, which features the DriverTV’s proprietary “Virtual Showroom Experience” videos, allows publishers and advertisers to pair targeted overlay and display ads with its targeted content.

Ex-News Corp exec: Downturn will be ‘very, very ugly’ — The outgoing chairman of News Corp’s European business, Marty Pompadur, has warned that the economic downturn will have a “very, very ugly” effect on the media – and could force some companies to put themselves up for sale. Pompadur, who resigned from the News Corp board last week after more than 10 years as one of Rupert Murdoch’s closest lieutenants, told the European Media Leaders Summit in London that the impending recession would be “pretty deep and pretty long”. “As I look at what’s going on globally, in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, it’s very, very ugly,” he said yesterday.

Articles of the Day

Posted in Digital Media, News with tags , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2008 by Dave Liu

Jerry Yang To Step Down As Soon As Yahoo Board Finds Replacement — Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang will step down from his post as soon as the board finds a suitable replacement, and BoomTown broke the story. The official release from Yahoo is out. Kara also has his full memo to the Yahoo team, in which Yang says he’ll participate in the search for his successor. Once the new CEO is in place, Yang will go back to his role as Chief Yahoo—and he will retain his seat on the board.The board has retained Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm, to assist in the process. Yang will participate in the search for his successor.

Google Brings Voice Recognition To Mobile Search — Google was scheduled to launch a voice recognition tool for Apple’s iPhone last Friday as part of a free mobile application allowing users to perform a Google search by speaking a query into the phone. The voice-recognition application, made available for free through Apple’s iTunes Store, is an update to the search tool that is already available for the iPhone. Google uses the technology for Goog 411, too. The voice query passes through algorithms converting to text.

Hulu To Match YouTube In U.S. Revenue Next Year — eHulu, the joint online video venture from News Corp. and NBC, looks poised to match YouTube in U.S. advertising revenues next year, according to a new estimate. This is shocking, considering that YouTube has more than 10 times as many monthly visitors as Hulu (83 million vs. 6 million). Nevertheless, Screen Digest is forecasting that both Hulu and YouTube will earn $180 million in revenue in 2009. The research group estimates that YouTube will make $100 million in U.S. revenue this year, compared to Hulu’s $70 million. Silicon Alley Insider points out that Screen Digest is most likely talking about gross revenue. Hulu actually passes along about 70-80% of revenue through to its content providers, so Hulu’s net revenue is probably closer to $14-$21 million. YouTube also shares some revenue with content providers, but a far smaller percentage.

Why Yahoo Still Matters — Yahoo shares may have fallen from $33 to $10 in the past twelve months, but the Web giant is still far more valuable in the eyes of Madison Avenue than it is in the eyes of Wall Street. Indeed, size still matters to Madison Avenue. “Advertisers are looking at where’s the traffic, volume and value is today. And today is very positive for advertisers at Yahoo,” said Chris Moloney, chief marketing officer at Scottrade. “Google is considered to be the 800-pound gorilla of the internet but it doesn’t have content the way Yahoo does. It receives a massive volume of traffic.” In fact, so big is Yahoo’s audience base that Chrysler’s chief marketing officer, Deborah Wahl Meyer, says she considers Yahoo “almost as a fifth (television) network.”

Yahoo React: Analysts Expect Board To Get Aggressive On MSFT, AOL Deal — Yahoo’s stock had another down day—its last trade dropped $0.19 to close at $10.63—but it could have a nice lift as word of Jerry Yang’s decision to step down as CEO takes hold. In the meantime, analysts following Yahoo shared their reaction in quick notes sent to investors and in press interviews: EO will come from outside: UBS analyst Ben Schachter looks at the list of possible successors and concludes that the company’s board will go outside. In particular, Yahoo president Sue Decker is unlikely to be selected for the top job because she doesn’t represent significant enough change by investors. Yang’s departure as CEO—he’ll revert to his role as “Chief Yahoo” and will retain his board seat—could also spur other board members to pursue “a more meaningful restructuring of YHOO.” Finally, expect the volume of the never-ending talk of a Microsoft deal to rise. Schachter adds: “We still believe MSFT will eventually own YHOO.” Even if a takeover doesn’t happen, the potential for news around restructurings, tie-ups with some combo of News Corp., Time Warner/AOL, Google and others “could be catalysts for shares.”

ESPN To Get Football BCS Starting In 2011; Deal Includes Digital, International — The details are still sketchy and the official announcement has yet to be made by ESPN (NYSE: DIS) and the Bowl Championship Series Group but Fox Sports said today that it will not be hosting the premiere college football games after its current contract expires in 2010. That leaves ESPN, which I’m told is willing to pay $125 million annually for four years to carry the games. This amount has not been confirmed with ESPN but represents the 50 percent increase the BCS governors are said to be seeking. Fox, which is paying $82.5 million a year currently, offered about $100 million a year during its exclusive renewal period. The BCS opened negotiations with ESPN, then, as per the current deal, returned to Fox with the material differences, which decided none of them– including the addition of international rights—were worth the considerable uptick in price.

Articles of the Day

Posted in Digital Media, News with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2008 by Dave Liu

Despite Industry Gloom, AOL Takes Its Ad Sales Pitch On The Road — Despite all its bad news lately, AOL (NYSE: TWX) can point to at least some revenue gains tied to its traffic jump. The company’s Q3 was mixed at best: profit dropped 7 percent to $400 million and display ad revenue fell 15 percent to $181 million; meanwhile, it had 12 percent gains in paid search. Later tonight, AOL, led by CEO Randy Falco and Lynda Clarizio, head of Platform-A, will gather 400 ad and media execs to kick off a “traveling upfront presentation” it’s calling the AOL Roadshow at the American Museum of Natural History. Bill Wilson, EVP of AOL Programming, demoed his presentation for me Friday; he’ll be trumpeting the company’s traffic numbers (one favorite of his: 21 months of consecutive year-over-year unique visitor growth for a current total of 56 million uniques). More important, he will also try to convince the industry that AOL is actually delivering on those traffic gains. Although total ad revenues were down 6 percent to $500 million in Q3, Wilson will highlight the news that the vertical content network of sites were up “solid double digits in Q3”—but no specific figures.

WSJ.com’s Third Super-Premium Tier Coming? — Murdoch’s love for newspapers is undying, nevermind the near-death throes of the medium itself, and he reads it out (literally, on the radio) as part of a series of Australian radio lectures titled, “The future of newspapers: moving beyond dead trees.” Compare and contrast this to his famous speech on April 13, 2005, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which shook the newspaper industry then for its forward thinking about the digital future of newspapers. And this was before he bought MySpace (three months later) and later in 2007 bought Dow Jones.

GE’s Immelt: ‘Some Opportunities In Media Consolidation’ — Jeffrey Immelt’s latest tack to convince people that NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) parent General Electric is staying in the media business—talk about buying more media assets. The GE chairman and CEO told the FT “There are going to be some opportunities in media consolidation, in infrastructure, oil and gas, aviation. And my hope is that we can play in some of those as time goes on.” Those who may need convincing include Vivendi (EPA: VIV), which owns 20 percent of NBCU. As FT points, it’s time for the annual guessing game over whether Vivendi will exercise its put option for GE to buy that stake and whether GE would sell NBCU to avoid further investment. GE acquired the majority of NBCU in a $14 billion deal in 2004. But much has changed at GE since the last time this question came up, including the company’s structure and NBCU’s designation as one of five operating units. Vivendi’s put option runs through 2016 and is based on market value; starting 2011, GE has an annual window with call rights through 2017 with a floor price of $8.3 billion that will increase based on the Consumer Price Index.

AOL Cutting Off Uncut Video Service; More Squeeze On Third-Party Vendors? — AOL (NYSE: TWX), as part of its efforts to trim the non-core and no-revenue-generating parts of its portfolio, is closing down the AOL Uncut online user-gen video service, after 2.5 years of trying to compete in the space. The service, started in May 2006, was powered by Videoegg, which has since moved on to become an online video-advertising network. According to a memo/FAQ to be sent out next week, obtained by Techcrunch, the service will close on Dec 18, and users will have to transfer video off the service before then. It is recommending that users transfer videos to Motionbox, the white-label video-upload service.

Discovery To Invest Up To $100 Million in Oprah Network; Has Spent $7 Million Till Now — The high-profile launch of “OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network” in late 2009 has attracted its own share of speculation since the announcement in January earlier this year, including executives, programming choices and finances. The company has already names Robin Schwartz as president, Maria Grasso as SVP of programming, Robert Tercek as president of digital media, among others. But no other details on the finances have been revealed till now.

UMG Digital Sales Up 33 Percent, New Streams Offset Dropoff In CD Sales — Universal Music Group predicted a turnaround, and maybe it’s coming to pass… UMG posted EUR 3.14 billion ($3.97 billion) revenue in the first nine months of 2008 –that’s up 3.5 percent if you rule out currency fluctuations. True, in actual currency, it’s down 3.8 percent, but even that’s better than the kind of chronic results some of the majors have become used to. It’s not that CDs are enjoying a revival… the hike came thanks to growth in music publishing and merchandising after UMG bought BMG Music Publishing and Sanctuary, from increased licensing income via the growing number of music-using services, and from a 33 percent increase in digital sales. All of which ”more than offset lower physical sales, according to parent group Vivendi’s earnings. Earnings before the deduction of interest, tax and amortization expenses were up 21.8 percent to EUR 408 million ($516 million) but were actually dragged down by various restructuring costs. Duffy was a big seller for the label.