Microsoft, Yahoo Said To Be Hammering Out $20 Billion Search Buyout; Denied — Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is working out a deal that would ultimately net it Yahoo’s search business for $20 billion, The Times Online reports, but has been denied outright by parties involved. If it turns out to be true, it would be complex deal with many moving parts: MSFT would initially only invest $5 billion, with the option to buy out the new unit for $20 billion after two years. Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) would continue to run its own email, messaging, display and content services businesses in the event of a buyout. Velocity Investment Group founders Jonathan Miller and Ross Levinsohn would likely lead the new search division; and they’d match MSFT’s funding with $5 billion from external investors. The new unit would end up with a 30 percent stake in Yahoo, and the external investors would have the right to appoint three of Yahoo’s 11 board directors. Senior execs at both MSFT and Yahoo have reportedly agreed on some of the terms, but the deal hasn’t been finalized—and may not be approved at all, The Times’ sources say.
Facebook Connect Set To Expand; Includes Discovery, Digg, Hulu and Others — Facebook, in an increasing attempt to prove its utility beyond its own site (and hence build on its advertising potential in the long run), is expanding its Facebook Connect service on some major media and services sites, including Discovery.com, SFChronicle, Digg, Citysearch, CBS.com, Hulu and others. The Connect service allows a federated identity system of sorts, competing with other services/efforts such as OpenSocial (backed by Google and MySpace) and OpenID, and also allows Facebook services to go outside its own site onto other services. It allows Facebook users to sign in on these third-party sites, connect with their friends who also use the sites, and then share their info and action on the social networking service.
Skol! Digitas Continues Expansionary Roll, Enters Sweden — On the heels of its expansion into South America last week, Publicis’ Digitas has turned its sights on Scandinavia, launching Digitas Sweden. The new Nordic outpost has been formed by combining two pre-existing Publicis units – direct and digital marketing shop 1.1.3, and pure play creative shop Joy – to form a new Stockholm-based full-service digital marketing agency. Digitas Sweden will be led by 1.1.3 founder Lisa Amatiello, who will report to Alan Rutherford, CEO of Digitas Global. The agency will continue to serve 1.1.3 and Joy clients while also offering expanded reach for Digitas’ global clients.
AOL Starts Site For Parents Who Ain’t Got Game (Knowledge) — Parents hit with pre-holiday pleas for “Grand Theft Auto IV” and other hot video games have a new source for sorting out which are appropriate with the launch of PlaySavvy.com from AOL. A complement to the Web portal’s game-focused properties, the new site offers parents a guide to games, from ratings and reviews to connecting with other parents about making informed buying decisions.
During October, Consumers Conducted 12.6 Billion Searches In The U.S., Up 7% Sequentially, According To comScore — Searches on Google rose 7% to 8 billion. Yahoo followed, up 9% to 2.6 billion, and Microsoft was up 8% to 1.1 billion. Google still owns the market–up 0.2% to 63.1%–followed by Yahoo at 20.5%; Microsoft at 8.5%; Ask, 4.2%; and AOL, 3.7%, according to comScore. AOL not only saw its U.S. search count decline, but also its market share, which fell 0.4%. Fox Interactive Media’s MySpace also declined 8% in October, from 614 searches to 563.
Baidu To Launch New Search Product — Baidu, Google’s Chinese search engine rival, will overhaul services after being accused of allowing unlicensed suppliers to fake documents and buy their way up the search results, reports Ars Technica. Chinese citizens had complained about paying exorbitant amounts for products and services found on Baidu’s search engine that later proved to be ineffective. China’s top-ranked search engine expects to unveil a new advertising platform that will offer more information about companies listed in search queries. The forthcoming new platform, Phoenix Nest, aims to offer better search result rankings and resolve some recent problems pertaining to competitive ranking.
MySpace CEO: Cautiously Optimistic About 2009; Chance To Pick Up Startups On Cheap — MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe was speaking at the Reuters Media Summit (not open to other reporters, only internal Reuters reporters), and said he is cautiously optimistic about growing its ad revenues in 2009, something that of course he has to say officially. “We’re up 18 percent year-over-year as of last quarter,” he said and hopes to grow it next year, despite the economic crisis. He continues: “We haven’t really seen any impact, other than we think we could have grown even more than we have.” Isn’t that the impact? To think that they won’t see a major impact this Q4 and next year is to be delusional, but I think they know that part and have to tow a corporate line publicly.
Newspaper Online Revenues Fall In Third Quarter — The Newspaper Association of America on Friday reported yet more depressing figures for the industry-in-decline that were compounded by a 3% year-over-year drop in overall online sales. This is particularly bad because online revenue growth was supposed to offset rapid declines in print ad sales; now, the industry is reporting losses from both revenue streams. In total, online ad sales fell 3% to $749.8 million, or about 12% of total newspaper spending. Print and online declines combined to produce an 18% decrease in total third quarter spending, from $ 10.9 billion in 2007 to $.8.94 billion. What we have here is an industry in a nosedive. Blogs, social networks, 24-hour news sites like CNN.com and real-time communication services like Twitter are stealing eyeballs from newspaper sites as the weak economy forces financial services, automotive and retail advertisers to greatly cut back on their spending. Meanwhile, newspaper publishers across the board are reporting steep declines and are responding by cutting costs, including thousands of jobs. Some publishers have also defaulted on debt payments, shrunk their pages, or even eliminated print editions altogether, in order to cope with the downturn.
CNBC’s Own Bad News May Be Coming, Soon, Despite ‘Massive’ Marketing Campaign — CNBC, high on its viewership numbers as the markets continue to nosedive, is in for its own downturn possibly by Q1 of next, a long cover story in the latest issue of B&C says. “Despite the yuks and the huge numbers, the network is now in the process of slashing as much as 10% from its budget. People at the network, says one staffer, are ‘scared s—less.’…As CNBC enjoys a new level of visibility and is about to launch a massive new marketing campaign to capitalize on the momentum, it must do so while navigating through the same flailing economy that has sent the network’s proverbial stock soaring.” This far into Q4, the channel viewership is up 66 percent compared to the year-ago quarter.
After Layoffs, Newspapers Embrace Content Sharing; McClatchy And CS Monitor Exchange Foreign Reports — As the newspaper industry’s prospects darken, and rounds of buyouts and layoffs have left little room for more cuts, The McClatchy Company (NYSE: MNI) is joining with the non-profit Christian Science Monitor on sharing foreign news coverage on a trial basis. The trial will last for three months and then the two will evaluate whether the combo worked. The exchange will involve two CS Monitor correspondents, one in New Delhi and the other in Mexico City, and two McClatchy foreign correspondents in Nairobi and in Caracas. The arrangement comes two months after McClatchy said it would cut an additional 1,150 jobs—10 percent of its workforce—while CS Monitor is preparing to shift from a daily to a weekly print pub and going online-only for breaking news. Meanwhile, the Associated Press is planning to slash 10 percent of its staff next year. That could make arrangements like McClatchy’s and CS Monitor’s more common.
Huffington Post Closes $25 Million Third Round; Plans Include ‘Focused Acquisitions’— After weeks of denials and “no comments,” political blog The Huffington Post has closed a $25 million third round funding from Oak investmentPartners, the company said in an e-mailed press release this morning. We reported earlier about a $20 million and above round with post-money valuation in the $110 million range. This probably puts it right at $115 million. The company said it planned to use the proceeds to support general growth efforts and for “focused acquisitions.” HuffPo also wants to build up its in-house ad sales team, as even the internet is succumbing to the wider economic turmoil. The three-year-old HuffPo had previously raised roughly $12 million from Softbank Capital, Greycroft Partners, co-founder Ken Lerer and Bob Pittman.
Ex-AOL CEO Miller Reportedly Raising Funds To Bid For Yahoo; But Could Be For His Own Fund — Jon Miller, former CEO of AOL and now one of the founders of VC firm Velocity along with Ross Levinsohn, is in the process of raising funds to try to buy Yahoo, reports the WSJ, citing sources. The story says he has been trying to do it for months. Our sources say that the WSJ might be reading too much into this: he and his partners at Velocity have been presenting to investors all across the globe, including sovereign investors in Dubai, to raise a new fund for his VC firm. So I would not be surprised if the two things got confused along the way, and someone expressed interest in putting money into a Miller-backed consortium. The story says that Miller believes he can do a deal that would be worth around $20 to $22 a share to Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) shareholders, which means raising about $28 billion to $30 billion to purchase the entire company. I have said before that the Indian tech-media giant Reliance ADA should look at a Yahoo deal seriously, and it is likely Miller has had conversations with them, considering Velocity’s India connections (it is an investor in NDTV there, among other companies). Full story —
Google Ratchets Back On Spending, New Projects; Buys Futures In Six Sigma — Nothing says serious about cost cutting and process quite like hiring a CFO with a black belt in Six Sigma management. With or without the tanking economy, Google (NSDQ: GOOG) has been heading towards maturing growth—you can’t keep up triple-digit growth or even double-digits indefinitely—and the addition of McKinsey vet and Bell Canada planning exec Patrick Pichette as CFO in August was one sign that cost containment was on the way. The slowing of online ad growth coupled with the unexpected speed of the economic downturn has only accelerated Google’s need to show maturity of a different sort. That would explain tonight’s long WSJ article about how Google is taking the responsible approach by cutting back on its ubiquitous product approach—along with some of the food perks and redundant offices. CEO Eric Schmidt told the Journal Google has to “behave as though we don’t know” what’s coming. That means cutting what Schmidt calls the “dark matter”—“projects that ‘haven’t really caught on’ and ‘aren’t really that exciting.’” Engineers may still get their 20 percent time but staffing and resources for their projects, particularly those without signs of real revenue potential, will be much harder to come by. Google needs hits that make money, not just headlines.
Yahoo Ties Up With CBS To Save Streaming Radio Service — Yahoo has turned to CBS to help keep its LAUNCHcast streaming radio service alive. As part of the new partnership, CBS Radio will provide the player and handle the ad sales for LAUNCHcast, and various CBS (NYSE: CBS) stations will be available on Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Music. Yahoo will also incorporate more radio content throughout its news and sports portals. It’s the latest move in Yahoo’s strategy to “completely open” its music operations to other services: the company recently launched an enhanced music search service with Rhapsody (the same company it offloaded its premium music subscription business to in February).
Dow Jones Taps Langhoff To Lead European Charge, Focus On Online — Dow Jones (NYSE: NWS) has picked a local publishing exec with online tenure to lead The Wall Street Journal’s assault on Europe next year as it squares up to The Financial Times on its own turf. Andrew Langhoff, CEO of DJ’s Ottaway local publisher, will be publisher of WSJ Europe and MD of DJ’s consumer media group across the whole EMEA region, starting January 5. For extra brownie points, he will also run the South America consumer business, including The Wall Street Journal Americas. Over the last year, DJ has upped its European news coverage, debuted the US WSJ edition in some London locations and added a magazine to the European edition. But the ‘09 push is online. Guardian editorial development director Neil McIntosh is already due to start as WSJ.com’s Europe editor in the new year and WSJ’s LA bureau chief Bruce Orwall is moving to run the London bureau.
Conde Nast’s Flip Goes Flop: Teen Social Network To Be Shuttered — When news came out that Conde Nast was launching its teen social media site Flip.com, back in 2006, Staci had a very pertinent question: “Can Conde Nast, which has been so good at matching demographics with ideas for print, create an online place appealing enough to catch and keep teen girls attention among so much competition?” Now, with the announcement that it is closing Flip.com, the answer seems to be no. The site will close down on Dec. 16, according to a note sent out to users, reported by FishbowlNY. “If you have any flipbooks that you would like to save before this date, we suggest you print them. It’s easy; go to the flipbook and click on the Print button just below it.” How convenient.
FT To Do Some Buyouts; Salary Freeze; The Memo — The Pink One will pass out some pink slips, though more in form of buyouts than actual layoffs, reports Reuters, citing an internal memo sent out today by FT CEO John Ridding. The company has already done some redundancies in its library/research division in October. For those interested in a buyout, Dec. 19 is the cutoff. It also is freezing salaries for employees who earn more than $50K a year or the equivalent, which means most of the mid- to senior journalists at the company. That freeze decision could be reviewed if conditions improve later. Also, FT is offering some employees the opportunity to work three- or four-day weeks, which of course means at a lower salary.
IAC Dissolving Programming Group; Lehman Leaving, Jackson Taking New Role; Which Sites Are in Play? — PaidContent.org has learned that IAC (NSDQ: IACI) is dissolving its programming group as part of its post-spin reorganization. As a result, Nick Lehman, COO of programming, has to decided to leave. Michael Jackson, the president of programming who also worked with Barry Diller at USA Networks and Universal Television Group, will stay on in a new role. Lehman confirmed his move but declined comment on the reasons and referred to IAC public relations for details. (No response yet to phone and e-mail queries.) As we pointed out in some detail recently, Diller said in the Q308 earnings call that IAC would shed some of its emerging businesses and was rethinking investments; this appears to be part of that strategic shift.
Icahn: No MSFT-YHOO Search Deal—For Now; Opposes Sale To Miller — Activist investor and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) director Carl Icahn is throwing more cold water on speculation that the company is about to sell its search business to Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT). While he would like to see Microsoft take the search off Yahoo’s hands, MarketWatch quotes Icahn as saying there’s nothing imminent now and he knows of no discussions between the two companies. Shares of Yahoo were down over 1 percent to $11.35 in after hours trading. Last week, Icahn added nearly 7 million shares to his holdings in Yahoo—for a to 75.6 million shares— for the relatively low price of $67 million. He muscled his way onto Yahoo’s board back in July, after acquiring a 5 percent stake in the company.
Digg CEO: Read My Lips: Not For Sale — Digg says it is not for sale anymore. Really? How many times have we heard that one before? With a $29 million round recently, that was all but decided then. But wait until the next time someone floats a trial balloon through Techcrunch. For now, with no one coming forward to buy it at the valuations the company hoped for (that’s the reality of it), the four-year-old startup will dial back some of its expansion plans, instead prioritizing projects that generate revenue and profit, says the BW story. Among some of the new “focused” projects: ads in its RSS feeds; a revamped version of its own search engine for more targeted search ads; and it is within a month of closing a deal with a mobile ad provider to sell more mobile ads. On the more important revenue side, Digg tripled revenues in September over the last year. In 2009, CEO Jay Adelson expects “another tripling if not more.” Am I mistaken or are ad-network ads all that Digg has at this point? To scale from there will be tough in this market.
Cox Enterprises Merging Newspapers, TV, Radio Into Cox Media Group; 100-Plus Digital Services — Waving the operational efficiency flag, Cox Enterprises is merging its three media units—Cox Newspapers, Cox Television and Cox Radio– into the Cox Media Group headquartered in Atlanta. The units will operate separately but will share a corporate structure. When the move takes effect in January, the new group will include the flagship Atlanta Journal-Constitution and 16 other daily newspapers; 26 non-daily newspapers; 15 local TV stations; 86 radio stations (Cox Radio will continue trading on the NYSE); and 100-plus digital services. It also includes Valpack, the coupon company Cox put up for sale in August. Cox will continue with plans to sell Valpack and its newspapers in Texas, North Carolina and Colorado. Cox vet Schwartz, who will be president of Cox Media Group, listed digital as one of the advantages of merging the units: “We are bringing together our wide array of digital resources that ultimately will lead to enhanced online and mobile experiences for all our audiences.”
Adobe To Cut 600 Jobs; More Focus On Web Video — Adobe is cutting about 600 jobs, or 8 percent of its workforce, citing the economy slowdown as a reason. Sales for its Creative Suite 4 package, which includes the popular Photoshop, has been much slower than expected, the company said. And these cuts, which are across the board, will help it better focus on its growing online video (through Flash, the default online video standard now) and online software business, CEO Shantanu Narayen said, according to WSJ.
The company said it will record $44 million to $50 million in charges related to the headcount reduction.
Updated: Industry Moves: Microsoft Picks Qi Lu To Head Digital — Update: Microsoft has confirmed Lu’s appointment in an official release. Lu will start January 5, and report directly to CEO Steve Ballmer. He will oversee a trio of execs—but not all of the names initially thought: Nadella, Mehdi and Scott Howe, who has been promoted to SVP of MSFT’s Advertiser & Publisher Solutions group. Former aQuantive CEO Brian McAndrews previously held that title, but he’ll be transitioning out—and leaving MSFT—over the next several months. Microsoft’s quest to find a digital head will end in a rather technical choice: former Yahoo EVP of engineering for Search and Ad Tech Qi Lu, according to Kara. The final details of his contract are being ironed out, and could be announced by next week, the story says. This position has been vacant since Kevin Johnson left and joined Juniper.