Archive for ESPN

Articles of the Day

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

News Corp. Stock Moves From NYSE To Nasdaq — With Nasdaq trading higher than the NYSE on Tuesday, News Corp picked a good day to tell its shareholders the stock would begin trading on the tech-heavy exchange. News Corp (NYSE: NWS). which has traded on the NYSE for over 20 years, said that Nasdaq will give its shareholders more up-to-date trading technology. On Nasdaq, News Corp’s Class A common stock will trade under the symbol “NWSA” and its Class B common stock will trade as “NWS.” The transfer will take place on Dec. 29. Nasdaq has been trying to lure other companies from the NYSE, Reuters notes. It recently scored a victory against its rival when regulators ruled that companies moving from the NYSE can keep the same stock symbols on Nasdaq’s exchange.

ESPN Web Overhaul Almost Done; ‘Less Is More’ Design Aimed At Advertisers — ESPN.com’s year-long revamp is finally ready today and set for its formal debut on January 5. Aside from emphasizing video and smarter search, as the company has talked about over the past few months in previews, execs at the Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) sports unit tell the NYT that the site’s overarching ethos is all about reducing ad clutter. As John Skipper, ESPN’s EVP for content, explains: “If we are frustrating people, they’re not going to spend as much time as we want on the site.” Some of the key changes include: The revamped home page has done away with the big block of 36 links at the top, and reduced it to 19 tabs for Fantasy (a rollover unveils about 16 sub-categories), NFL (which unfolds to offer eight links that take users to the “scoreboard” or “blog network”) and a “More” tab, which has 20 links to areas such as Olympics, poker and cricket news.

Lee Enterprises Faces Possible Default — The crushing debt that was built up over the past few years at newspaper publishers like The Tribune Company and McClatchy (NYSE: MNI), is now weighing heavier on Lee Enterprises (NYSE: LEE), the parent of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This week, the Davenport, Iowa, publisher said that it faced several potential default triggers on its debt, the WSJ reported. In a statement, Lee said it notified the SEC that it will delay filing its annual report until on or before Dec. 29, because it needs additional time to sort out the amount of non-cash charges it will take to reduce the carrying value of goodwill and “other intangible assets.” Lee expects the impairment charges to total at least $180 million after-tax for the quarter that ended Sept. 28, 2008. Lee’s auditor, KPMG, said it will include an explanation in the company’s annual report of Lee’s “ability to continue as a going concern.”

Microsoft’s Search Guru Brad Goldberg Turns VC — And another one bites the dust. Brad Goldberg, Microsoft’s GM for Live Search, is leaving to head up the online business at Peak6, a Chicago-based investment firm. TechFlash confirmed the news with a Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) exec who said the departure was “amicable.” The company will replace Goldberg with Mike Nichols (who has experience working with online services exec Yusuf Mehdi). Still, Goldberg is leaving on the heels of two other key executive departures: Brian McAndrews, who oversaw a large portion of Microsoft’s online division, and Bill Shaughnessy, who’s resigning as global VP of sales—meaning the company’s online services, overall sales and now search divisions will all be under new management. The changes may be part of a stealthy reorg in the wake of Microsoft’s appointment of Qi Lu as head of digital, as none of these new departures were mentioned in the release that detailed the realignment of several teams.

CBS And Time Warner Considering Joint Olympics Bid — CBS and Time Warner’s Turner Networks are in discussions about making a joint bid for the broadcast rights for 2014 and 2016 Olympic Games, AP confirmed. Both media giants caution that the talks are merely exploratory and no plans have been put in place. NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) has the rights to the 2012 games, having beat Fox and ESPN/ABC with a $2.2 billion bid back in June 2003. NBC has had rights to the games since 1988. Considering the ratings success it had across its broadcast, cable and online, it will likely put up a fight to continue its Olympics run. Still, it’s hard to imagine what shape all the major networks will be in next year, given the likelihood that the economy will remain in a severe recession. The talks between CBS and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) will likely spur the other parties to examine the prospects of a collaborative deal.

Knight Foundation Gives $390K To Four Local News Sites — At least there’s still some expansion going on these days… Four non-profit hyperlocal news sites are sharing a $390,000 investment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to build up their reporting staffs. The recipients of Knight’s backing are MinnPost, which received $250k from the Knight fund in August 2007; the three-year-old VoiceofSanDiego.org, which was started by a columnist for the city’s Union-Tribune; the Chi-town Daily News, which has relied on citizen journalists and staff reporters to cover Chicago’s 75 neighborhoods; and St. Louis Beacon, which was covers the city in partnership with its local public TV station. Over the past few years, the Knight Foundation has handed out $100 million to community-minded news outlets.

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 August 28, 2008 by Dave Liu

Google Lags Badly In Corporate Software — Google reps are shilling the heck out of Google Apps to business owners, but with relatively little success, Fortune reports. Indeed, the search king has a long, long way to go before it cracks the market for corporate software that Microsoft so thoroughly dominates. As one IT professional said recently (after declining an offer from Google), “I don’t know if [Google Apps] is ready for prime time yet.” Eighteen months into its corporate push, Google Apps is only being used by a handful of Fortune 500 and mid-sized companies–and none of these embraced the Google software suite in its entirety, most opting to stick with Microsoft Office instead. Meanwhile, the earnings gap between Google Apps and Office is enormous: last year, Microsoft sold $12.2 billion worth of Office software, while Google pulled in just $4 million from Google Apps.

Warner Bros. Resurrects TV Network On Web — The WB, long gone from your television, is being resurrected on the Web. Tomorrow, Warner Bros. will relaunch the defunct television network as a Web hub for its television shows. According to TechCrunch, TheWB.com will be more “feature-rich” than competitors like Hulu, allowing users to mashup clips from each show, for example. The report says its most impressive feature is video search, which allows users to search for specific words or phrases used in any show. Digitalsmiths, the search provider, uses technology that automatically transcribes and indexes dialogue from each episode. TechCrunch claims the search engine only works about 50% of the time, “but when it does work, it’s pretty impressive.”

ESPN Leads $80 Million Investment In The Active Network; Will Pursue Acquisitions — The Active Network, the big provider of sports-related technology, has just closed a huge, $80 million sixth round led by ESPN. Past backers participating in the round include Canaan Partners, North Bridge Venture Partners and Performance Equity Partners. The company, which has now raised $275 million since 1999, will use the funding towards infrastructure and towards “appropriate acquisitions.” Acquisitions are a key part of its strategy: Since 2007, it has acquired 11 companies, including Hy-Tek Sports Software, LaxPower, Cool Running and Golfbuzz. Its flagship site is Active.com a sports training and registration portal. In addition to the online communities it runs, The Active Network provides marketing services and other technologies geared towards sports management. It’s also worth noting that it’s not just a sports company, as it offers services towards organizations like schools, campgrounds and governments.

Facebook Penetration Still Weak In Asia; Malaysians Overwhelmingly Choose Friendster — With ad agencies like WPP Group increasingly focused on Asia, Nicholas Guan, a social media researcher at the ad holding company’s OgilvyOne unit, decided to look at the prospects for marketers considering ads across Facebook. The verdict: Facebook is fine for reaching Americans and those educated in the west, but there are plenty of other social nets throughout Asia that are much more popular. Using Google Insights, he compared Facebook with the most popular social nets in each Asian country. While cautioning that the results are not quite accurate since Google is not the number one search engine in most Asian countries, the numbers are meant as a rough gauge of where Facebook stands. (Earlier today, Joseph posted an item about Japan’s most popular social net, Mixi, and its plans to expand its presence in the U.S. and Europe.)

Japanese Social Net Mixi Sees US Markets In Its Future, Eventually — Top US social nets Facebook and MySpace haven’t been able to capture the top spot in Japan, where publicly traded Mixi reigns supreme. Mixi itself, however, may be looking to expand in North America and in Europe. In an interview with Reuters, CEO Kenji Kasahara said the company would like to eventually enter English speaking markets, although the end service could be something other than the actual Mixi service. Beyond that, it sounds like any plans won’t take hold for awhile, as Kasahara said the expansion will come “some day”. Right now, the main thrust is on looking for ways to diversify its business—95 percent of revenue comes from ads. Also, per the article, the stock is off 40 percent since its explosive IPO two years ago, so there’s added pressure to goose the business.

Articles of the Day

Posted in Digital Media, News with tags , , , , , on August 26, 2008 by Dave Liu

Google TV Ads: The Uphill Struggle To Court Cable Providers, Marketers Continues — Google TV Ads, which exited out of beta earlier this summer, hasn’t moved much from where it started. For the past year, Google has sought to offer targeted ads through cable set-top boxes the way it has served ads online. Adweek checks in and finds Google TV Ads still working with only one pay TV provider, EchoStar (NSDQ: DISH) and a much smaller, local California cable company. That only gives Google access to the satellite TV company’s 14 million households out of a roughly 65 million basic cable subscribers, according to figures from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

ESPN Will Pay $2.25 Billion For Some SEC Rights; Live Streaming Included — As a former card-carrying member of the SEC, I can only look at these numbers in awe … ESPN will announce later today a major deal for the SEC TV rights not held by CBS (NYSE: CBS), according to Sports Business Journal. SBJ’s “industry sources” peg the price at $2.25 billion for 15 years, or roughly $150 million a year. The Southeastern Conference, one of the top athletic conferences, just announced a 15-year deal with CBS for a reported $825 million or $55 million a year. No details yet on the broadband and mobile rights but it would be surprising if ESPN didn’t have a lock on multi-platform rights for its games. SBJ also says to expect a deal that puts ESPNU on Comcast systems; Comcast has a major SEC presence and this would be the right lever. SEC schools include Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

High School Sports Site ESPNRise.com Launches Today — Another ESPN story worth mentioning … after 18 months of acquisitions and building, the Disney sports unit is launching its major online high school initiative aimed at 14-18 year olds. ESPNRise.com later today. (For now, it defaults to ESPNU’s football recruiting site.) ESPNRise.com represents significant inv*stm*nt and a basket full of all of the company’s high-school hopes. It’s designed as “a complete source for national high school sports and lifestyle coverage” and a community that connects athletes, teammates, friends and families. The name comes from the acquisition late last year of School Sports Inc, publisher of RISE (now ESPN RISE) magazine and RISEmag.com, among others. Since 2006, ESPN also has acquired Hoopgurlz.com, Student Sports Inc., and what is now ESPN Scouts Inc.

Will A Strong Greenback Sap Internet Earnings? — Throughout the past several earnings periods, we’ve noted when companies were benefiting from the weak US dollar. Of late, the dollar has reversed course, firming against foreign currencies, and the effect this will have on earnings is becoming a big discussion point. A couple weeks ago, there was a report on what the changes meant to HP, one of several tech firms with significant international exposure. In a note today, Bernstein’s Jeff Lindsay specifically looks at what it all means to major internet firms. Under the most pessimistic scenario—the dollar gaining another 10 percent by the end of 2009—earnings could be whacked by 8 percent at a company like eBay (NSDQ: EBAY) and 13 percent at Yahoo.

Vudu Still Trying to Break the Voodoo: Does Some Layoffs, New CFO — Vudu is trying to break the voodoo curse of online-TV boxes, but is having a tough time: it has laid off about 16-18 of its employees out of 100, and is now trying to build on its retail presence. It has also hired a new CFO: Chris Watts, a former eBay executive, as the former CFO left for “personal reasons,” according to company rep, quoted in this News.com story. Recently the company added adult movies within its portfolio, always a desperation move for most online video providers. It has $21 million in funding from Greylock and Benchmark. The company added Mark Jung, co-founder and former CEO of IGN and COO of Fox Interactive Media, as its CEO in fall last year, but still hasn’t gotten much traction in the industry. Competition is fierce, even though the market is still very nascent and small. Moviebeam, Akimbo and others are prime examples…there has been some positive reaction to the Netflix-Roku box but too early to make any trendlines out of that.

Articles of the Day

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

Google Releases OpenSocial Specs — Google on Wednesday released new information about OpenSocial, the search giant’s social networking alliance, touting its reach of more than 300 million users, more than 4,500 applications and 150 million installations. Facebook, which is not part of OpenSocial, has more than 30,000 applications and 700 million installations, by comparison. “We expect to reach 500 million OpenSocial users by the end of the quarter. It’s also very international, as social networking is a global phenomenon,” said Joe Kraus, Google’s director of product management. Google obviously plays a major part in the evolution of the social networking alliance, which includes MySpace, Friendster and Hi5, but Kraus noted that just 10% of its major developers come from Google. In all, OpenSocial’s main developer community is about 350.

With New Launch, Microsoft Breaks With Past — Microsoft spends more than $8 billion per year on research and development — much of which is devoted to competing with Google — yet despite this, the software giant has a steady reputation of being an also-ran in the Web business. The Financial Times reports that Microsoft is tweaking its R&D unit by appointing Gary Flake, the former head of research at Yahoo, as head of the company’s new research group, Live Labs. The unit’s task is to experiment with moneymaking ideas that break the traditional molds of doing business. Its latest product, Photosynth, is set to be released today. Photosynth allows users to create 3D collages of their digital images using high-performance recognition technology that matches similar pictures. The technology identifies patterns in images and then matches them with related photos to produce collages that users can navigate inside a browser.

Facebook To Enhance Social Ads — Facebook apparently isn’t done trying to get friends to shill products to one another. In an interview with AllFacebook, Tim Kendall, Facebook director of monetization, reveals that, “Marketers will be able to pay to accelerate usage they find valuable, to dial up and down actions that people take on applications,” as part of a new social ad scheme set to be unveiled in the next 6 to 12 months. News Feed already uses an algorithm to calculate who would find a friend’s update most interesting, but marketers will now be able to pay for distribution above and beyond what News Feed already provides. This means that if one of your friends loved “Dark Knight” and you get a message about it, Warner Bros. probably paid to have it sent to you.

ESPN-MLBAM Extend Digital Rights Deal Through 2013; Live Game Streaming, International — It’s been in limbo for months but ESPN and MLBAM finally have extended their digital rights deal through 2013. The just-announced agreement covers a plethora of digital platforms, including the right to live stream games and other events like the Home Run Derby when ESPN has TV rights. No financial terms yet but MLBAM doesn’t come cheap. Some details: Platforms include ESPN.com, ESPN360.com, ESPN’s mobile initiatives (ESPN Mobile TV, ESPN Mobile Publishing, ESPN MVP), and emerging platforms including video game consoles, interactive television, interactive online (ESPN Game Cast) and portable devices (examples: iTunes/iPod, Zune, XBox Live). This includes “all new platforms ESPN creates or develops relationships with through the end of the agreement.” It also covers syndication of ESPN-licensed content.

Xoova Inc. (f.k.a. DoctorsDirect.com) Has Shut Down — Santa Monica, Calif.-based social networking site that let consumers research physicians and book appointments, has shut down, according to VentureWire. The company had raised a $2.5 million Series A round in late 2006 led by Spark Capital.

Digital Media M&A

Posted in Deals, Digital Media, News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 8, 2008 by Dave Liu

Comcast Interactive Media Acquires DailyCandy For $125 Million — This time the rumors were true, at least when it comes to the sale if not the price: e-mail service DailyCandy, the equivalent of an all-day sucker when it comes to the length of time on the block, finally has been sold to Comcast Interactive Media for an undisclosed sum. SAI, which shares an investor with DailyCandy in Pilot Group, has a source that puts the figure at $125 million, also being reported by WSJ. Viacom was among those talking to Pilot but dropped out of the bidding weeks ago before the final round, according to a source familiar with the discussions. (Update: Just talked to a Viacom spokesperson, who confirmed that the company looked but dropped out of the process in early June and never made “any kind of a bid.”).

Sony Buys Bertelsmann’s 50 Percent Stake In Sony BMG For $1.2 Billion — As expected, Sony Corp. and Bertelsmann AG have reached an agreement that has Sony buying Bertelsmann’s 50 percent stake in Sony BMG for $1.2 billion. The music company will be called Sony Music Entertainment Inc. and will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America. Sony and Bertelsmann AG originally created the Sony BMG joint venture in August 2004. Details about the financials are here (PDF). Bertelsmann had been seeking $1.5 billion for its stake, though it was expected with only $1.2 or $1.3 billion at most. Under the deal’s terms, the two have also agreed to continue to share the company’s manufacturing and distribution requirements between Sony’s manufacturing unit, Sony DADC, and Bertelsmann’s services company, Arvato Digital Services GmbH, by extending the agreements with Arvato for additional terms of up to six years. In addition, Bertelsmann will be taking over selected European music catalog assets from Sony BMG.

ESPN Buys Motorsport’s Racing-Live.com, Disney Bags RaisingKids.co.uk — ESPN is buying Racing-Live.com, an independent motorsports site founded way back in 1995. Racing-Live.com claims three million monthly uniques and has four sites – F1-Live.com, Moto-Live.com, Rally-Live.com and Raid-Live.com – covering F1, Moto GP, superbikes, rally, sports cars and karting. It was started by Montpellier-based racing fan Michel Marvie – who first began publishing motorsport news to France’s Minitel in the 80s – and has grown to offer live race updates and news in English, French, Japanese, Italian, German and Spanish.

Google Sells Performics SEM Unit To Publicis — After Google completed its acquisition of DoubleClick earlier this year, it announced plans to divest itself of Performics, the search marketing firm that came with the package. That Google wouldn’t want to be in the SEM game was pretty easy to comprehend. Today the company has announced that the unit will be sold to advertising firm Publicis for an undisclosed sum. The Paris-based ad holding company says it will combine the unit with its existing SEM practice and that it will strengthen its VivaKi Nerve Center. Performics has 200 employees around the globe who will report to Vivaki head Curt Hecht. The deal is expected to close this quarter.

Internet Brands Buys 12 Websites, Expands Careers And Shopping Verticals — Internet Brands buys in bulk. In April, the internet holding company announced it was buying five sites. In February it bought nine. Today it’s picking up 12, as it expands two major verticals: shopping and careers. No terms on the deals were disclosed. Shopping: The four sites acquired were Bargainist.com (lists good deals), Boddit.com (again, bargain hunting), Deallocker.com (user-submitted deals) and Ultimatecoupons.com. Obviously, the common thread is that they all appeal to people looking for a bargain—probably a smart approach in this economy. Careers: The other side of the economic coin: people are concerned about jobs. Hence a massive expansion of its careers category. Here are the 10 sites listed in the category, each of which should be self explanatory: AirlinePilotCentral.com, AviationEmployment.com, ClassADrivers.com, HospitalJobsOnline.com, ifr*eelance.com, ModelMayhem.com, NursingJobs.org, PPRuNe.org (The Professional Pilots Rumour Network), RealPolice.net, WAHM.com (Work At Home Moms). PPRuNe.org isn’t a new acquisition—it was just in a different category—and it seems that one other of these sites was also not a buy, though it doesn’t say which one. The point is: the company now has a vertical in careers comprising of ten sites.

Time Inc. Strange Buy: Acquiring Reader’s Digest School Funding Raising Unit QSP For $110 Million — Time Inc. has bought out QSP, a school and youth groups fundraising company that was part of Reader’s Digest Association, for $110 million in cash. RD is owned by PE firm Ripplewood Holdings. For Time Inc, the fit is, well, I’ll let them describe it: “It sees fundraising as a growing area for subscriptions across the magazine publishing industry and envisions benefits to operating QSP’s large direct-selling force in North America.” In other words, it will focus QSP on selling magazine subscriptions as a way to raise funds, something the company was already doing in addition to other incentives/gifts such as food items.

Articles of the Day

Posted in Digital Media, News with tags , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2008 by Dave Liu

EarthLink To Aggressively Pursue AOL Dial-Up Merger; Other M&A Hopes — EarthLink, which earlier today reported its Q2 earnings, said that it wants to facilitate consolidation in the dial-up ISP space, including going after AOL’s dial-up business, which parent Time Warner has already said it is looking to sell off. CEO Rolla Huff: “We believe we’re best-positioned to be the consolidator in this industry…When an industry reaches a point of maturation and growth stops, it simply makes good economic sense to consolidate into one cost platform.” In a separate interview with WSJ, Huff expanded on this: he said merging the two would create cost savings and better service, benefiting customers as well as shareholders of both companies. “We think it’s worth aggressively pursuing,” he said.

ESPN To Launch Online Action Sports Network; Morphing EXPN Into It — Right on cue around the X Games, ESPN has announced plans to launch an online action sports network, imaginatively called ESPN Action Sports Network. The online channel, slated for a fall launch, will have a slew of sites, each focused on action sports such as surfing, skateboarding, motocross and snowboarding. This will expand on its X Games franchise that it created more than a decade ago. The network also developed the EXPN.com website about a year ago to start offering daily content of different extreme sports, but that will now become ESPN Action Sports Network, the company says.

Marchex Relaunches Local Ad Platform — Local online advertising company Marchex today will relaunch its local ad platform with the integration of its online and call-based ad services. “We fundamentally believe that phone calls are the currency that local businesses operate under,” said Leigh McMillan, SVP of marketing and communications at Marchex. Marchex Connect 2.0 represents the proverbial fruit from the company’s acquisition of call-based ad unit VoiceStar last year for $28 million. That deal also added more than 100 local advertiser aggregators including Comcast, The Cobalt Group, R.H. Donnelley/Dex, and YellowBook USA to Marchex’s roster of partners.

Collective Media Launches Video Ad Network — Online ad network and technology provider Collective Media is launching its own video ad network. The network, supported by Collective’s proprietary AMP platform, provides advertisers with video content from publishers within the Collective Network, along with a suite of in-stream ad units, including pre-roll and overlay video formats.

Google Working On a Formal VC Arm — Google has done a number of strategic investments over the years, and usually big amounts in big-issue-tackling companies, like powerline internet, WiMax, and others. It even has a non-profit Google.org foundation to invest in global challenges. Now it wants to start a formal venture capital arm, a la Intel Capital, Time Warner investment, Steamboat (Disney’s (NYSE: DIS) venture arm) or BlueRun Ventures (formerly part of Nokia), reports WSJ, citing sources. The group will be lead by David Drummond, Google’s SVP of corp dev, chief legal officer, and it has also hired William Maris, a 33-year-old former entrepreneur who has worked as an investor, to help set up the venture.