MediaFile

The media is hungry for corporate excess

Guess where the paparazzi are training their lenses these days? For those of you who missed it, The New York Times writes that gossip rags have all but abandoned Britney Spears for the thrill of capturing corporate excesses on camera. From the paper:

The tabloid media, of course, have always peered into the excesses of the rich and famous with a mix of puritan disapproval and voyeurism. But these outlets and other news organizations are now recording troubling uses of taxpayer money at country clubs, private airports and glamorous retreats and, in so doing, explicitly tapping into a fierce populist anger at corporate America, and even pressuring Congress to hold companies accountable.

Populist indignation apart, perhaps people also feel a sense of glee when watching or reading about the severe scaling back of corporate budgets that once supported lavish lifestyles. Gawker may have captured the glee best in this biting account of The Wall Street Journal story on Goldman Sachs executives being asked to stay at Embassy Suites rather than the Ritz.

Reporters are often sent to capture nuggets of corporate excess, the more outrageous the better. An affinity for $40 crab legs? Flying to DC in private jets to ask for bailout money? Poolside sales conferences with six-figure tabs? The media loves writing about this stuff almost as much as people enjoy reading it. So if you’ve got any tips, let us know.

Keep an eye on:

    New AOL CEO Tim Armstrong sees a lot of options for AOL’s future. (All Things Digital) Alibaba seeks partnerships with U.S. companies. (Reuters) Carl Icahn says he doesn’t intend to push for a sale of Lions Gate. (Reuters)

(Photo: Reuters)

Googler jumps ship

It’s been less than a week since Google reset the price of employee stock options in order to provide “better incentives for employees to remain at Google.”

Apparently Google’s President of Americas Operations Tim Armstrong didn’t get the memo.

On Thursday, Time Warner announced that Armstrong is leaving the Googleplex to take the top job as CEO of AOL.

Who’s ready for a little dealmaking?

******Current valuations for media companies must have opened up some opportunities for dealmaking, right? It’s hard to argue that things aren’t getting cheap.******Well, two of the industry’s top dogs, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, seem to have differing views on whether the media meltdown makes for a good time to wheel and deal. Both were asked about it during presentations at the Deutsche Bank Annual Media & Telecommunications Conference.******Dauman said Viacom, owner of MTV and Paramount, wants to focus on internal growth, mentioning Nickelodeon’s international expansion and the Colors television channel in India. “I continue to believe that we are better off investing in growing our own brands than spending significant money on acquisitions,” he said “I don’t see our using huge dollars to make an acquisition anytime soon.”******Bewkes left the door slightly more ajar. He said a lot of the assets or companies out there — “you can fill in the usual suspects” — have previously been way overpriced. “Up ’til now, those things have been around at prices that just don’t provide a return,” he said.******Deals may now make more sense. “We have room for acquisitions if there are real opportunities out there that don’t represent stupid prices or acquisitions risks,” he said when asked if they were on the prowl.******Time Warner, of course, knows a thing of two about stupid prices and acquisition risks.******Speaking of which… Not surprisingly, Bewkes was asked about AOL. He provided fairly stock answers, saying he was disappointed in ad sales and would still consider a deal for the troubled web business. “We always remain open for scale combinations that put any of our businesses in a better position,” he said. “We remain open to that.”******(Photo: Reuters)

The worst vacation ever

It’s just like vacation — except that you don’t get paid and really don’t have any choice in the matter and will likely spend the days worrying this could be a hint of (bad) things to come.

Some staffers at Gannett Co, the largest U.S. newspaper publisher, will be forced to take a week off without pay in its latest move to cut costs. Already, it has cut thousands of jobs, says this furlough will help it avoid more layoffs.

Here’s what Reuters reported:

“This means that most of our U.S. employees — including myself and all other top executives — will be furloughed for the equivalent of one week in the first quarter,” Dubow wrote.

Google-Yahoo vs. Department of Justice

The odds of a Google-Yahoo Web advertising deal are looking increasingly bad. The Wall Street Journal says that both sides may just drop the deal as early as next week. The reason: The Justice Department wants too many darn compromises.

From WSJ.com:

The option to scrap the deal has been on the table before, but Google in particular has begun considering it more seriously as Justice Department talks haven’t progressed. One sticking point has been the department’s discussion of having the companies sign a consent decree stating the terms of the partnership. That would subject their compliance to continuing oversight by a judge.

But dropping it next week? That seems so soon. Well, paidContent speculates that the timing could be linked to Tuesday’s presidential election. 

More talks between Yahoo and AOL? Why not?

yahoo2.jpgHere we go again… It seems that Yahoo’s new board has given the thumbs up to a new round of talks about Time Warner’s AOL, according to a report in the Financial Times

The newspaper says that the board’s move potentially reignites “negotiations for a combination of the two internet businesses that stalled earlier this year.”

According to one person familiar with the company’s thinking, the Yahoo board approved a new round of discussions with AOL, though active deal negotiations are not underway at this stage.

AOL changes look, opens email, gets more social

aol_sept_mock_v5.jpgAOL has relaunched with a redesigned page. It has also unveiled a new ‘every email’ feature that allows consumers to access multiple email services and integrates access to social networking sites.

Effectively AOL is getting more ‘social’ by allowing users to access not just AOL and AIM email on their AOL page but also Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail. Paid Content points out that Hotmail is not directly accessible through AOL.com, so AOL is providing a link that can be inserted in one of the module email slots and and a link to Microsoft feedback so people can ask for the feature.

 In addition to being more open, AOL hopes the email aggregation will help recapture some of the user attention it lost before people leaving the ISP were allowed to keep their AOL addressesPaid Content.

Google’s investment in AOL heading down

toilet.jpgFive percent of AOL may not be what it used to be.

Many thought that was the case, but now even Google says so, conceding in a filing that its stake in Time Warner Inc’s AOL unit may be worth less than the $1 billion the Web company paid for it in 2006. “We believe our investment in AOL may be impaired,” Google said in its quarterly financial filing.

Here’s what people are saying about it.

Silicon Alley Insider:

Of course, we knew that already. The highest estimates of AOL’s value these days usually top out at around $10 billion ($15 billion if Microsoft goes into a testosterone-fueled bidding-war rage). This would put the value of Google’s 5% stake at, say, $500 million to $750 million.

What’s most interesting about Google’s AOL note, however, is that the company believes the impairment may be temporary (expressed below as not believing the impairment is other than temporary). This is a polite way of saying that Google is dreaming that AOL might actually recoup some of its vaporized value someday.

Yahoo: The Road to No Deal

The following is a timeline of key events leading up to Yahoo’s Aug. 1 annual meeting.

2006 January – Yahoo Inc begins to report a string of weak quarterly results, reflecting competitive missteps by the company, market share gains by rival Google Inc, changes in the online advertising landscape and weakening spending in some ad segments.

Stock_slide

2006 – Microsoft Corp and Yahoo begin preliminary talks on various partnerships, including a merger.

AOL trims for sale?

randyfalco.jpgTechCrunch‘s report on AOL’s “sunsetting” of Xdrive, AOL Pictures, MyMobile and Bluestring spread like wildfire yesterday, at a time when the future of its ownership hangs in the balance.

Are these latest actions in anticipation of an AOL sale? Actually AOL’s been trimming for some time. Who hasn’t, given the state of the economy. You just haven’t noticed.

About 50 products including a video download service, a 10-foot UI experience (Internet in the living room), AIM phone line, and Tegic, have been “sunset”, we’re told.