Gut feeling: How Google CEO valued YouTube deal

October 7, 2009

Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google, sits for an interview at the Newseum in Washington on Oct. 2, 2009Let the second-guessing, the mock horror, the disbelief, the crowing begin.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt has acknowledged he realized upfront that he was overpaying to acquire YouTube, to the tune of $1 billion, judged by any conventional measures.

The many critics of Google’s $1.65 billion deal to acquire the video-sharing site three years ago will claim this confirms everything they have always said about the deal. Not quite.

In fact, not really at all.

Schmidt came clean in a deposition by lawyers in the Viacom copyright lawsuit that there was very little revenue coming into YouTube to justify the price his company paid.

No surprises here. There were intangibles to consider:

1. YouTube’s popularity was sky-rocketing, making it the runaway market leader among video-sharing sites.
2. It was crushing his company’s own site, Google Video.
3. YouTube was up for auction and would be sold to a competitor unless Google jumped first.
4. Google overbid to ensure YouTube didn’t fall into rival hands.

The Google CEO said he told his company’s board of directors that the 18-month-old video-sharing site was worth $600 million to $700 million, according to CNet, which obtained a transcript of his testimony. Of course, he fails to mention the potential costs of copyright lawsuits that already loomed for YouTube.

“In the deal dynamics, the price, remember, is not set by my judgment or by financial model or discounted cash flow. It’s set by what people are willing to pay,” Schmidt says.

So the real justification for the 150 percent premium Google paid was in derailing, or at least delaying, the rise of a potential competitor. Of course, Google has faced a long struggle to find ways to make advertising work on the site in order to pay the costs of free video. Only last quarter could Google say YouTube would be profitable in the “not long, not-too-distant future.”

Of course, all the fuss over YouTube’s valuation is not really Google’s problem. The real issue is the extrapolation of valuations of all the Web 2.0 companies since then which have used the YouTube price as the benchmark for all the other-worldly valuations of their unproven business models.

Here are the relevant excerpts from Schmidt’s deposition by Viacom lawyers, via CNet:

Viacom attorney Stuart Jay Baskin: And what was management’s valuation?

Eric Schmidt: Much lower than we paid for it.

Baskin: And how was that communicated to the board?

Schmidt: I told them.

Baskin: So why don’t you tell us what you remember telling the board in connection with the valuation?

Schmidt: I believe YouTube was worth somewhere around $600 million to $700 million.


Baskin: What methodology did you use to come up with that number?

John P. Mancini, an attorney working for Google, objects.

Schmidt: My judgment.

Baskin: Was it based on cash flow analysis? Comparable companies? What were you using as the basis for your judgment?

Mancini objects.

Schmidt: It’s just my judgment. I’ve been doing this a long time.


Baskin: I’m not very good at math, but I think that would be $1 billion or so more than you thought the company was, in fact, worth.

Mancini objects.

Schmidt: That is correct.

 

(Photo credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

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