VC 2009 Investments: Which Startups Will Get The Dough? — Investments for venture capitalists got squashed in 2008, and the outlook for initial public offerings (IPOs) and mergers and acquisitions (M&As) doesn’t look much better for this year. But at least one VC firm still plans to make investments in 2009. Jeremy Liew, managing director at Lightspeed Venture Partners, said the Menlo Park, Calif. VC will look to invest in companies focused on gaming, virtual goods, Web 2.0 and advertising, and those with solutions that monetize international traffic. While startups can expect fewer investments in the first two quarters, by the end of the year run rates should return to those seen in 2008, according to Liew. “The challenge with investing now is there’s a lot of uncertainty about the recession we’re in, how long it will last and how deep it will be,” he said. “Consumers with more time on their hands and less disposable income will look for the most entertainment for least amount of money.”
Google Solicits Suggestions For Mobile Products — Building on the openness underlying its Android mobile platform, Google is allowing users to propose ideas for new mobile product features through a new Web site. The Product Ideas page for Google Mobile allows Google users to submit and vote on mobile features they’d like to see the company develop. Through this Digg-like rating system, “we’ll be able to see more clearly what’s important to you and we’ll take it into consideration as we move forward with developing our products,” according to a post on the Google Mobile blog last week. “The Product Ideas team will pop in from time to time to see what you have to say, and we’ll be offering periodic updates on what we see and what ideas make it into your favorite products.”
Publishers Competing With Ad Networks — Behavioral targeting can be something of a double-edged sword for publishers, Ad Age’s Michael Learmonth explains. When a user visits a site like Edmunds.com, he or she instantly becomes an “in-market car buyer”, a valuable asset, but one from which Edmunds.com might not necessarily benefit. Like most Web publishers, Learmonth says that Edmunds doesn’t participate in the “mini-economy that flourishes after visitors leave” their site. Instead, “a host of ad networks will sell that ‘in-market car buyer’ to advertisers at a fraction of the rate, thereby increasing ad inventory while driving down ad rates for Edmunds, KBB.com and other sites like it.” The same story is true for other publishers who, by hosting users who demonstrate an interest in their products, create a profile that is eventually used by a third party network that packages and resells audiences at lower prices. As Learmonth says, publishers have long viewed this universe of networks and targeting firms with “unease”, in a similar manner to the way they compete with portals and news services that aggregate their content. Source: AdAge.
Consumers Union’s New Consumer Media Unit Could Expand Beyond Consumerist; No Paid Ads Allowed — Consumers Union’s new non-profit subsidiary Consumer Media LLC launches on Jan. 1 with newly acquired Consumerist.com as its only property but the announcement release stressed that it’s the first. Does this mean more acquisitions are on the way? “The short answer is we don’t know,” Ken Weine, VP-communications, told us. “We may down the road acquire or create new items.” Consumer Media is viewed as a way to expand
the nonprofit’s consumer advocacy mission and to take advantage of a growth spurt in recent years. For now, the new subsidiary sets boundaries between Consumerist, acquired this week from Gawker Media, and CU’s Consumer Reports magazine and website. “The message we’re trying to project—and the reality will reflect this—is we’re not purchasing Consumerist to make it into Consumer Reports and we wanted for that, among other reasons, to structurally create some distance between the two.”
Getting Rid Of The Box: Netflix Software To Be Embedded Directly Into LG TVs — In the march towards getting “rid of the box” as the going-forward philosophy in the evolving digital home, Netflix has extended its partnership with LG Electronics (SEO: 066570) and embedding its online video service directly into the new HDTVs from the Korean electronics company. LG’s new LCD and plasma “Broadband HDTVs” will allow current Netflix members to stream the videos from its service; these TVs have to be connected to a broadband connection, of course.
Monster.com To Create Co-Branded Job Sites With Sun-Times Media Group — The Sun-Times Media Group has struck an alliance with Monster.com on forming a series of online recruitment services and co-branded job sites across the publisher’s 70 newspapers. The deal comes over six months after Chicago-based Sun-Times joined the Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Newspaper Consortium, which includes access to Yahoo’s Hot Jobs site. More recently, newspapers and online recruiters have seen help wanted ads decline precipitously as the economy worsens and unemployment ticks higher. The deal could help Sun-Times generate some more incremental revenue and attract more readers
to its classifieds. For Monster, it represents the growth of a media alliance that includes 250 newspapers and their sites, such as the NYTimes.com, and over 100 local TV outlets.
Macrovision Backtracks On TV Guide Network Sale To One Equity Partners; Chooses Lionsgate Instead — The TV Guide saga continues … Macrovision (NSDQ: MVSN) has a new buyer for its TV Guide Network and TV Guide Online properties—Lionsgate Entertainment. The TV and movie studio is slated to buy the properties from Macrovision for $255 million, the same price Macrovision had agreed to sell it to Allen Shapiro and One Equity Partners for (plus a $45 million earnout payable for the next three years) less than
a month ago. That deal was expected to close on April 1, 2009. Macrovision’s CFO James Budge told the WSJ that the company went with the
new deal because it seemed more certain to close: “At the end of the day, overall deal considerations were superior with the Lionsgate deal in all
circumstances.” This new deal is slated to close in February.
Gannett Lifts The Curtain On Local/National Hybrid Site ContentOne — Gannett (NYSE: GCI) is going live with its local/national web hybrid ContentOne this morning, says Jim Hopkins on his Gannett Blog. The program was introduced by execs speaking at the UBS Media Week conference last month. At the time, Craig Dubow, Gannett’s chairman, president and CEO, said ContentOne would serve as an exchange between its 85 local papers’ websites and USA Today’s site on the national level. He also described the idea behind ContentOne as “local content on a national level,” adding that it will use the regionally focused MomsLikeMe social net and Metromix web guide as the foundation. ContentOne would operate as a single site and serve as an easy access point for advertisers targeting readers both local and national level.
Better Late Than Never: Ad Agencies Try To Create Online Marketplaces — After witnessing ad networks and exchanges capture more revenue from major marketers these last few years, traditional media agencies are starting to play catch up. Interpublic Group’s buying and planning shop Mediabrands is working on a digital marketplace tool for clients that will include behavioral targeting. IPG’s major ad holding company rivals are not far behind either, WSJ says, noting that WPP Group, Publicis Groupe and Havas are also trying to come up with similar programs.
Mail.ru Investor Offloads Stake; IPO Looks Less Likely — While you were off for Christmas, the ownership of Russia’s top website (according to TNS) shifted a little. Tiger Global Management hedge fund sold its 27 percent stake in Mail.ru to its existing shareholders Digital Sky Technologies and Naspers. The Russian online investment vehicle and the South African media outfit now have 53.2 percent and 42.8 percent respectively, CEO Dmitri Grishin has 2.5 percent. The deal means DST, which is part-owned by Arsenal soccer club and LiveJournal investor Alexander Usmanov, now controls a majority of both Mail.ru and Runet’s top social site Odnoklassniki.ru.
Online To Weather 2009 — How will online advertising fare in 2009? Adweek says there are two schools of thought: optimists see tighter budgets shifting more dollars from less measurable media like TV and print to the Web; pessimists believe that weaker ad budgets will result in cuts across all media, although digital should fare a little better. With that in mind, search spending is expected to remain stable, while display and ads and microsites could come under pressure. Social ads are also likely to remain top of mind this year, as marketers look to move beyond experimenting with social media toward really engaging and leveraging users’ social interactions. Researcher eMarketer pegs online ad spending growth at 8.9% in 2009, from $23.6 billion to $25.7 billion. Forrester Research, another research firm, expects display spending to increase 8% this year.
IAC/InterActiveCorp Sees Strategic ‘Search’ And ‘Local’ Acquisitions As Use For USD 1.7bn in Cash — IAC/InterActiveCorp. (NASDQ:IACI), the New York-listed Internet company, is looking for strategic “search” and “local” area deals with USD 1.7bn in cash, according to a CitiGroup analyst report. The report cited comments made by IAC Chief Executive Barry Diller yesterday during Citi’s Global Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. According to the report, IAC sees growth potential in the two areas, despite a cautious macroeconomic outlook for 2009. Source: mergermarket.
AOL’s Conroy Jumps To Univision As Interactive Media President — paidContent has learned that Kevin Conroy is leaving his post as AOL’s EVP, products, and heading to Spanish-language TV broadcaster Univision as president of interactive media. Before coming to AOL (NYSE: TWX) in 2001 to build AOL Music, Conroy was CMO for new technology at BMG Entertainment, where he worked for eight years. Conroy took on additional duties at AOL last April, when John Burbank departed as CMO less than a year after arriving at AOL.
Confirmed: Apple Dropping DRM Across iTunes, New Pricing Structure, 3G Downloads — Just before Tony Bennett sang goodbye to the Moscone Center faithful with “I Left My Heart In San Francisco,” Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) confirmed at its final Macworld Expo that it will drop DRM copy protection across 10 million iTunes Store songs from all majors, as per CNET’s earlier report. The move will apply to eight million tracks as of today and will extend to a further two million by the end of the quarter. Bringing to a close what have sometimes been fractious label negotiations, Apple is also introducing three new pricing tiers for iTunes tracks—$0.69 for older tracks, $0.99 for recent tracks and $1.29 for new hits. Marketing VP Phil Schiller, taking Steve Jobs’ traditional keynote spot, also said Apple is extending the ability to buy iTunes songs wirelessly via iPhone from merely WiFi to 3G mobile networks; also from today, tracks will be priced the same and have the same bitrate as desktop iTunes downloads.
@ CES: Microsoft CEO Ballmer Starts His Stage Setting With A Swipe At Yahoo’s Yang — We’re in the not-as-crowded-as-usual ballroom at the Venetian where the first Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) keynote completely sans Bill Gates (well, he got a mention and some applause) is underway with Steve Ballmer on the stage. It only took a couple of minutes for a light-hearted jab at Yahoo’s Jerry Yang, with a fake message asking: “Why do you keep ignoring my friend requests in Facebook?” No mention of the latest funky Yahoo deal rumor, of course, Ballmer’s real mission tonight is to outline his vision for Microsoft and to pitch Windows as the once and future software that will connect devices, platforms and people—and the PC as THE computer. “In many ways, connecting all of this together is the last mile. … The linchpin for bringing all of this together for you should be Windows.” Windows 7: “I am really pleased with the progress on Windows 7…. We’re working hard to get it right more quickly.” It should boot more quickly, take less battery life, incorporate touch. “We are releasing the beta of Windows 7; Tech Net and MSDN tonight.” Friday, the beta will be available globally for any user to try. Hasta la vista, baby.
Time Warner Warns Of Net Loss For ‘08; Expects $25 Billion Impairment Charge — Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) is warning investors that it will report a net loss ranging from $1.04 to $1.07 a share profit. Back in November, the company said it expected income to grow 5 percent over 2007’s $12.9 billion. The company is also expecting an impairment charge of $25 billion. About $15 billion of those write-downs are related to Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), which the company is planning on spinning off, although it still holds an 85 percent interest, the WSJ noted. Time Warner made the announcement in advance of CFO’s John Martin presentation at the 2009 Citigroup Global Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications Conference today. Following the news, Time Warner shares were down 6.1 percent in
pre-market trading. Time Warner said the change in expectation was due to several factors and not just the worsening economic environment. For example, in December, it was hit with a $280 million expense related to a judgment against Turner Broadcasting System in a court case involving to the 2004 sale of its winter sports teams. Time Warner also pointed out that advertising at AOL and its publishing business suffered more than anticipated in Q4, reducing the expected income growth rate by about 1 percent.
Citi Media: Time Warner’s Martin On AOL: Don’t Expect Any Strategic Deals Soon — Asked about Time Warner’s plans for the AOL business and all its discordant parts—from access service to content and ad sales—CFO John Martin told the 2009 Citigroup Global Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications Conference in Phoenix that the company is still enthusiastic about exploring “strategic relationships.” However, to be realistic, this kind of economic environment isn’t conducive to quick action. The comments were somewhat in contrast to what CEO Jeff Bewkes said last month at the UBS Media Week event, when he told attendees “I’d like to get it resolved, meaning clear… so AOL can be seen and valued… We need to do it fairly soon and we’ve been working hard on it.” Still exploring alternatives: Martin: “We look at the company in three buckets, the cable, the content companies and AOL. With AOL, you have at least two big businesses in there. The access business has surpassed expectations in terms of cash flow. It’s declining, but it’s doing so at a predictable rate. The access business, though, is not strategic to Time Warner (NYSE: TWX). So we would be open to different options, but in this environment, we appreciate the fr*ee cash flow. As for audience size, AOL doesn’t have the industry scale that some of other businesses do. So we’ve been in talks with other companies about creating alternative structures and seeing what we could do. But this is a tough environment to do any strategic relationships. We just completed 22 months of considerable growth in usage on the vertical channels and there is still reason to be optimistic.”
@ CES: Discovery’s Kathy Kayse: ‘We’re Better-Equipped To Deliver On Digital This Year’ — Discovery Communications gobbled up online reference site HowStuffWorks for $250 million back in late 2007, and network brass told us that HSW would be the company’s “primary platform” for online growth. Well, has the company delivered on its promise? We asked Discovery’s EVP of digital ad sales Kathy Kayse at the Reinventing Advertising Conference at CES: Increased traffic: “It’s about a year into the integration process and we’ve seen significant growth in unique visitors and page views to both sites [Discovery.com and HSW],” Kayse said. “This year, we’ll focus even more aggressively on cross-channel promotion and integrating more Discovery (NSDQ: DISAB) content onto HSW.”
Microsoft Beats Out Google To Win Verizon Search Deal — It’s official. Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) has won the deal to become the default search provider on all phones on the Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) network, reports Reuters. The two companies said they would go into greater detail about the deal later today at CES in Las Vegas. In November last year, the WSJ reported that in an effort to snatch the deal from Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Microsoft was offering guaranteed payments to the carrier of approximately $550 million to $650 million over five years—about twice what the search giant had proposed. The payments are to come from the ads that Microsoft would be able to serve up with search results.
Travelocity CEO Peluso To Leave — Travelocity CEO Michelle Peluso is packing her bags and will leave the online travel agency early next month. She’ll be replaced by Hugh Jones, who most recently served as chief operating officer for the Sabre Travel Network and Sabre Airline Solutions businesses. Sabre Holdings is Travelocity’s parent company. Peluso came to Travelocity in 2002, when the company acquired online travel site Site59.com, which she founded. Transitioning from CEO of Site59, Peluso became Travelocity’s COO a year later. At the end of 2003, she was became president and CEO. Over the past year, as other vertical categories started seeing slower growth, travel-related sites were still holding their own. Whether that will continue as the recession takes hold is unclear. Jones, who had served as a financial controller for American Airlines, was likely singled out to succeed Peluso because of his background. No word on Peluso’s next move.
Venture Capitalist Sounds Alarm For Facebook, Slide — In an interview with PaidContent writer Tameka Kee, Norwest Venture Partners principal Tim Chang expressed concern about two well-known Silicon Valley startups that he thinks will find it hard to grow their revenues or raise new money this year. “I’m concerned about Facebook,” Chang said. “Microsoft isn’t likely to renew its search-advertising contract–at least not at the same rate–and Facebook makes a significant amount of money from that deal. Imagine if you lost $300 million worth of revenue–how would you make it up? It’s not going to come from advertising, even if they have other ad platforms.” As Kee points out, that also raises questions about what happens to News Corp’s MySpace when Google renegotiates its search deal.
@ CES: Online Video Exec: ‘If We Don’t Do Things Differently, The Industry Is Screwed’ — Online video viewing continues to surge, but the ad dollars flowing into the space still aren’t scaling accordingly. Panelists at the Reinventing Advertising Conference @ CES trotted out well-worn reasons for that imbalance: lack of standard metrics; high volume of low-quality content; building the right amount of reach, etc. But Brian Terkelsen, EVP and managing director at MediaVest’s connectivetissue, (pictured) avoided the hand-wringing and laid it on the line: “Advertisers aren’t being aggressive enough in general—they helped grow TV to where it is now, so I think it’s partly up to them to drive video. If we don’t challenge the industry to do things differently, we’re screwed.”
Google Won’t Buy Ailing Newspapers, Could ‘Merge Without Merging’ — Their fortunes are poles apart and yet inseparable—one is hauling in buckets of advertising, the other is losing it at an alarming rate. Google (NSDQ: GOOG) sympathizes with the newspaper business’ predicament and continues to say it can help, but, sadly for NYT-Google acquisition speculators, CEO Eric Schmidt says he isn’t about to buy or bail out any news publishers.
AOL Reorganizes Products Division Following Conroy’s Departure — AOL (NYSE: TWX) is reshuffling parts of its products division following the departure of Kevin Conroy as AOL’s EVP of products. AOL Video, AOL Radio, Winamp, SHOUTcast, widgets and a few other areas are being moved from the Products & Platforms Group to the AOL Programming Group under EVP Bill Wilson. Programming will also take over AOL’s commerce and marketplace channels. Also, the chat applications under Userplane, which AOL bought in 2006, will move into the People Networks business unit under Joanna Shields. In a memo to staffers about the latest changes, Randy Falco, AOL’s chairman and CEO, says that there are few other details at the People Networks that will be completed in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, Conroy’s remaining duties within the Products and Technologies division, which include overseeing mail, video search tool Truveo, mobile and toolbar, will go to Ted Cahall, the group’s president.
Tracking The Shift In Media M&A Dollars in 2008 — Even though 2008 was a slower year for digital media M&A, about $0.88 of every dollar of industry revenue growth flew to four growth sectors: Database & Information; B2B Online Media; Consumer Online Media; and Interactive Marketing Services. Only $0.12 flowed to traditional media, according to an analysis by media M&A advisory firm The Jordan, Edmiston Group. This compares to $0.67 of every incremental ad dollar flowing to traditional media sectors (newspapers, magazines, events, etc.) from 2001 to 2007, while only $0.33 went to these four growth sectors. Some other highlights: Multiples: The all-important metric for an entrepreneur: The four growth categories saw average revenue and EBITDA multiples range from 3.4x to 4.5x and 13.5x to 21.3x, respectively, in 2008, as compared to 1.5x to 2.4x and 8.0x to 8.5x, respectively, for traditional media sectors. Deal numbers: Deal count and value declined 35 percent and 58 percent, respectively, in Q4 2008 versus Q4 2007. For the full-year, deal count was down 13 percent and deal value declined a significant 68 percent from 2007 highs.