Sure, the CBS-CNET Deal Seems Crazy–But Maybe in a Good Way
A lot of people have been piling on CBS for its deal to buy Web site operator CNET Networks for $1.8 billion in cash.
And it is not because newly crowned CBS Interactive CEO Quincy Smith (pictured here) is the ever-amusing Energizer Bunny of the Internet.
Okay, CBS (CBS) paid too much and that makes the whole thing suspect. But is it the wrong direction?
I have been noodling on the deal for a while now and have concluded that I like it.
Why? Primarily, because it is a big bet on big traffic from a high-quality Internet-born content and video site, which has been unnecessarily pilloried much as much, much smaller Web 2.0 competitors have been over-hyped.
With a hard re-haul–and there is no question CNET has to shake the Web 1.0 tone out of its system–and a true effort to find new advertising paradigm, the site could be just the kind of proof that content on the Web can really be powerful and more lucrative.
That’s because size still does matter. CNET is a midsize network of sites–smaller than Yahoo, but much bigger than most, with a range of sites, such as the popular GameSpot (see chart below).
Solving all of CBS’s problems is not the end game here, nor should it be, which has been the tone of a lot of the coverage of the deal. That’s been especially true as the media giant’s shares have swooned.
Struck in mid-May and closed at the end of June, the union has not inspired a lot of cheering by either Wall Street or the media, neither of whom like the 22-times EBITDA price (compared with CBS’s own seven).
Typical was The Wall Street Journal, which slappity-slapped the deal–comparing it with a lackluster CBS Web deal from a few years ago when the network bought CSTV for $325 million–and even managed to insult CEO Les Moonves’s ancient acting career at the same time:
“CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves had a bit role in ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ in 1977, but never made it as an actor. So maybe it’s time that Mr. Moonves stop acting like an Internet dealmaker.”
More recently, Lehman Bros. (LEH) Anthony J. DiClemente, in a longer report about CBS’s stock, noted that the deal’s impact was questionable.
He wrote: “In our view, it may take several quarters before we are able to discern if CBS’s purchase of CNET is able to help the online monetization effort for CBS and its TV content. We believe CBS will need to rejuvenate the CNET brands and ad sales effort in order to earn an adequate return on invested capital. CNET’s platform may open up a new collection of advertisers for CBS’s Internet ad sales team.”
Well, exactly. As always, the issue is going to be all about execution, making integration go smoothly and getting its ad sales team to actually begin to sell across all CBS online properties in new ways.
But what should be not lost here amid all the bellyaching about price and the depressed CBS brand and its even more depressing stock is that someone has to begin to build the next generation media model and create a critical mass of high-quality display inventory that also attracts a large and demographically attractive audience.
In other words, all the pieces are in place at CNET and CBS to do this. Whether the Energizer Bunny runs out of power before that can happen is another question altogether.
Please see this disclosure related to me and CBS.