December 22, 2009

Top 10 Misbegotten Media Mergers of the Decade

Disney 10. Disney buys Fox Family
Announced: July 2001
Closed: October 2001
Michael Eisner was still CEO when Disney forked over $5.3 billion to Haim Saban and News Corp. for what would become ABC Family. While the network has in recent years hit its creative and ratings stride, it failed to connect with young adults for most of the decade under Disney's ownership. And Wall Street was appalled by the high price tag and derided the deal as a prime example of overpaying for businesses. Even Tom Staggs, who is moving from the Disney CFO role to take over the firm's theme parks, later acknowledged that the purchase was "pretty expensive." Bob Iger drew some heat from Disney dissidents for his role in the deal when he was then just the conglomerate's president; luckily it didn't seem to tarnish him too badly.

Cbs_cnet 9. CBS Corp. buys CNET
Announced: May 2008
Closed: June 2008
Another deal in which a traditional media company acquired a digital media firm, but this time it closed much faster than usual. And clearly, the assets have come together more naturally than AOL and Time Warner and the like. Still, analysts balked at the $1.8 billion that CBS Corp. shelled out for CNET Networks. Even CBS chairman Sumner Redstone had to admit that the company paid a lot (most say overpaid) for its push into the digital space just as the recession was hitting. Critics also wondered why a big name like CBS would buy a more obscure niche player, which was best known for technology sites, and whether there can be real revenue synergy between the two companies' assets. CBS News' CNET-infused coverage of the technology issues of the last presidential election didn't seem to excite too many industry watchers. And the operating loss for the first three quarters of 2009 at the interactive unit in a sign investors must wait for any potential upside. Management still expects to reap the benefits of cross-promotion and cross-platform advertising sales over time. For now though, the financial benefits remain a show-me story.

Sirius_xm 8. Sirius XM
Announced: February 2007
Closed: July 2008
Timing can indeed be everything, and the much-touted but long-delayed satellite radio deal is a case in point. Former top radio and Viacom executive Mel Karmazin seemed like a great choice to run the new behemoth created by Sirius' swallowing the bigger XM. And his words were bullish as always despite an extended regulatory review in Washington. "Every one of our constituencies is a winner," he said when announcing the closing of what he called the "exciting merger." But Karmazin had to eat his words when the financial crisis hit soon after, putting pressure on the highly indebted new entity. Subscriber growth became a thing of the past, and shareholder value ... well, just look at the stock, which has remained below $1! Yes, Sirius XM did manage to avoid Chapter 11 bankruptcy thanks to John Malone's Liberty Media, which provided a capital injection in return for a stake in the firm. But Liberty has been the only major beneficiary given that its loan is now paid back with interest that ensured a profit for Liberty, while its management expects the stock to finally rebound to give it more gains. Third-quarter financials finally gave some on Wall Street hope that the company is starting to improve though.

Hollywood_video 7. Movie Gallery acquires Hollywood Video
Announced: January 2005
Closed: April 2005
Smaller rival Movie Gallery wanted Hollywood Video to create a new challenger to take on video rental giant Blockbuster, but most of the headlines that the $1.2 billion deal created were negative. A weak rental business, trouble with the integration of the two firms and high debt combined to send the company into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2007. Its stock price dropped below $1 per share for too long, so the shares were delisted from Nasdaq. The stock moved to the over-the-counter market that has no minimum listing requirements, but is nothing more than a penny stock there. While the company emerged from bankruptcy in 2008, it continues to close stores and has been falling behind on rent payments in some of its locations. Bottom line: The rental buy didn't work out!

Gemstar 6. News Corp. buys a controlling stake in Gemstar
Announced: September 2000
News Corp. chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch has a reputation for seeing new opportunities and emerging businesses where others don't. But in the case of print and electronic programming guide provider Gemstar-TV Guide International, he mainly reaped headaches, legal troubles and a value loss in the billions of dollars. Late in 2000, News Corp. boosted its Gemstar stake to more than 40% in a deal with John Malone's Liberty Media. The hope was that amid increasing channel diversity, audiences and cable operators would need a guide through the TV landscape. But Gemstar soon sputtered, its stock lost luster, and Gemstar founder Henry Yuen and his team became a thorn in Murdoch's side. In May 2002, News Corp. reported a $4.2 billion writedown on its Gemstar investment, and Murdoch called the firm and its slumping stock "a real disappointment," while still lauding it as a "powerful" asset. He soon pushed through management changes to assert more control, replacing Gemstar co-president Peter Boylan, who had had several showdowns with cable operators. Yuen also was pushed out -- but not without a legal fight -- as federal prosecutors continued a prolonged accounting and financial reporting investigation, which only added to News Corp.'s headaches. The unhappy adventure ended when Murdoch got rid of it all in a sale to Macrovision in May 2008 -- for a meager $2.8 billion.

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