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Media Deals: Why They Fail

Posted by: Tom Lowry on November 3, 2009

On Monday night, 150 or so of the media elite gathered at the Thomson Reuters headquarters in New York’s Times Square to listen to a panel discussion focused on one basic notion: how badly they’ve all screwed up.

The panel was assembled to help promote a new book, “The Curse Of The Mogul, What’s Wrong With the World’s Leading Media Companies,” in which the co-authors skewer media executives for their companies’ poor financial performance over the years and for propagating a “myth” about the necessity to do mergers. Needless to say, there was no shortage of opinion on Monday night.

Lead panelist and co-author of the book, investment banker Jonathan Knee, kicked it off by saying that media executives have essentially tried to merge their way to excellence by “convincing the world there is something special and magical about media.” To hear more from Knee, click here

Here are a few more highlights from the panel, moderated by New York Times media columnist David Carr, who described The Curse of the Mogul “an intellectually honest book” but then drew laughs when he said he worried that its title is “vaguely satanic.”

Former cable executive and now partner of investment firm InterMedia Partners, Leo Hindery Jr. slammed Barry Diller’s dealmaking record. “Do you think (Time Warner CEO) Jeff Bewkes and (News Corp. Chairman) Rupert (Murdoch) go to sleep at night worrying about what Barry did today? They could care less.”

Hindery said he admired Murdoch for his vision and said today’s media executives are “mushy” and have “no soul, no vision….Can anybody tell me what the vision at Viacom is today?”

Time Warner CFO John Martin, who spent a lot of night distancing himself from the disastrous AOL-Time Warner deal that happened when he wasn’t in his current job, said his company is now moving toward becoming a more focused company. He emphasized that it doesn’t need to do deals. “Abstinence is the best policy.”

When Carr asked what media company has done a good job, Susan Lyne, the former CEO of Martha Stewart Omnimedia and currently CEO of Gilt Groupe, cast her vote for ESPN, which she says has “stayed true to its mission.” But she did note that its one mistake was getting into restaurant business.

On the possibility of a merger between NBC Universal and Comcast, Hindery said “both guys really need it,” referring to (NBCU parent) General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. “Brian has the carryover (from the failed attempt to buy the Walt Disney Co.) and he can’t lose another one.” That said, Hindrey wouldn’t predict whether the deal would be a success.

In a closing shot, Hindery told Knee that after writing this book “you are never going to have another investment banking client again.”



The media world continues to shapeshift as new forms arise and old assumptions erode. On this blog, Bloomberg Businessweek will provide sharp analysis and timely reports on the transformation of this constantly changing terrain.



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