MediaFile

Everything is so very, very digital

allthingsd.jpg The bigwigs of the digital world have descended on Carlsbad, California.

The D: All Things Digital conference always attracts the elite of the tech world and this year is no exception, with a lineup that includes Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Jerry Yang, Tom Glocer, Barry Diller, Jeffrey Bewkes, and Mark Zuckerberg, among others.

Kicking it off, Microsoft’s Gates and Ballmer showed off new Windows features that are based on “multi-touch” software that will be part of Windows 7. Ballmer said touchscreens were just one way Windows would be improved.

OK. Cool. But what if you wanted to know about Gates and Ballmer? What were they like up on stage? Were they nervous? Relaxed? Were they funny? Dull? Did Ballmer do his screaming thing?

After all, for some the conference is a little like the Super Bowl, Cannes, and the MTV Video Music Awards wrapped into one big buzzfest. If you’re in that camp, the tech bloggers have your back. A sampling of the reporting:

GigaOM: “It didn’t quite have the sentimental feeling of the Steve Jobs & Bill Gates talk from last year, but it was interesting to see the dynamic of Steve Ballmer & Bill Gates. I think it was great to see Bill step back and let Steve enjoy the limelight, and not take himself too seriously.”

Fox: King of the world!

strike.jpgTV strike? What TV strike?

Seems that Fox survived the 14-week writers strike, and arguably thrived if you stack its prime-time ratings up against major broadcast networks. It has  finished the season as the undisputed ratings leader for the first time, thanks to a combination of the Super Bowl and that little talent show known as “American Idol.”

Sure, “American Idol” ended its latest run with year-to-year declines in both overall audience and ratings for viewers aged 18 to 49 – and the show notched some record ratings lows this season. But let’s be honest here, it’s coming off pretty tough comparisons.

Even if the talent show is fading a bit, the network has built a strong supporting cast around “American Idol,” one that includes “House,” “Bones,” and “24,” which will be back next year after the strike kept it off the schedule this season.

Anyone want some cash back?

dollars.jpgTake that Google!

Microsoft, in a bid to win share of the search market from Google and Yahoo, now plans to offer a new “cashback” service that provides a rebate when users buy something they found searching with Windows Live.

Chairman Bill Gates’ announcement of the rebate plan is the latest loud and clear sign of how much importance Microsoft is placing on advertising. (It apparently has been in talks with a company named, ummm, Yahoo, about just this).

“This is giving you a reason why you should use a particular search engine,” Gates said at the company’s Advance 08 advertising conference.

Microsoft searching for answers

microsoft.jpgThe secret is out: What Microsoft wants is Yahoo’s search business. Reuters has reported that the deal now under discussion would have…

1). Microsoft buy the search operation.

2). Yahoo sell off its Asian assets.

3). Microsoft buy a chunk of what remains of Yahoo.

Microsoft and Yahoo representatives declined to comment on the Reuters report. But clearly these talks are all about search.

And that really shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, search is crushing all other types of advertising in terms of growth and Google is threatening to run away with market share, leaving Microsoft and all others in the dust.

Nokiahoo or Yahookia? Nah…

desert.jpg

With all the interest in Yahoo Inc these days, we took the opportunity to ask Nokia CFO Rick Simonson at the Reuters Global Technology, Media and Telecoms Summit if the world’s largest mobile phone maker would be interested in buying Yahoo. He laughed and joked that of all the questions we could have asked him, this was one he didn’t see coming. Then he goes on to say:

We’ve not been involved obviously in Yahoo. We’re focused on closing the acquisition with Navteq

We’re not out in the desert trying to invent a search algorithm that’s better than Google or Yahoo’s for instance. They’ve got some scale there we don’t have.

Yahoo, Microsoft may want to check with Icahn

yahoo.jpgSo Microsoft is now proposing a new deal: This one could be some sort of partnership or joint venture for search-related advertising to take on Google Inc, the New York Times reports.

Just one problem. Carl Icahn doesn’t appear to be hot on the idea. Reuters, citing a person familiar his with the financier’s thinking, reports that this latest talk about an partial Microsoft-Yahoo alliance could prompt the billionaire investor to press Yahoo to further pursue a deal with Google.

“Microsoft is trying to get the milk without buying the cow, and if you look at Icahn’s history, he has never been used that way,” said this person. “He does not want to see Yahoo pushed into some joint venture with Microsoft and is not going to be used to push Yahoo into it.”

Look out, Yahoo!

spider.jpgRemember those scary movie close-ups of a fly caught in a spider’s web, or some tourist who steps into quicksand, or another variation of the same? How with each twist and turn to get free, the captive enmeshes themselves deeper into the trap? 

We’re starting to get that uncomfortable feeling about Yahoo as it dodges the embrace of Microsoft while trying to orchestrate a partnership with Google that won’t encroach on its own business. The New York Post says today that a deal with Google, already at the “any minute now” stage for almost a month, could be sealed next week.
    
Some of the moves could provide a boost down the line, like a new ad-trading partnership with WPP Group, the world’s second largest advertising services company. 
    
[N.B. WPP chief Martin Sorrell said last week it was a shame Yahoo and Microsoft couldn't work it out, since their break-up just leaves Google the biggest kid in the playground]
    
But Yahoo does not have that much more time to prove it can go it alone. Yesterday, Yahoo stood up to billionaire Carl Icahn, who officially launched his proxy fight to deliver the company back to Microsoft. That means there must be some resolution by the time Yahoo’s shareholders meet on July 3. (Reuters)

Keep an eye on:    
* “Gossip Girl” can’t save ratings for the CW network. (WSJ)
    
* Fox embraces Less Is More principle, cutting ad time for two new shows. (Hollywood Reporter via Reuters)

Icahn to Yahoo: We’ve lost faith

carl-icahn.jpgBillionaire investor Carl Icahn fired a salvo at Yahoo on Thursday morning, threatening a proxy fight unless Yahoo gets Microsoft back to the negotiating table.******In a letter to Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock he said Yahoo’s board had acted “irrationally” in turning away an offer that amounted to a 72 percent premium and warned Yahoo not to announce any “strategic alternatives” (such as a deal with AOL or Google) without a shareholder vote.***

I am perplexed by the board’s actions. It is irresponsible to hide behind management’s more than overly optimistic financial forecasts. It is unconscionable that you have not allowed your shareholders to choose to accept an offer that represented a 72% premium over Yahoo’s closing price of $19.18 on the day before the initial Microsoft offer. I and many of your shareholders strongly believe that a combination between Yahoo and Microsoft would form a dynamic company and more importantly would be a force strong enough to compete with Google on the Internet.

***Icahn also disclosed he has purchased 59 million shares and has sought antitrust clearance from the FTC to acquire up to approximately $2.5 billion worth of Yahoo stock.******Microsoft has remained quiet so far. Wall Street Journal reported earlier that Icahn had been yet unable to lock in Microsoft’s support.******Also, despite having nominated a 10-member slate, which include Icahn, former Viacom chief Frank Biondi, Icahn Enterprise’s vice chairman Keith Meister, former New Line co-CEO Robert Shaye and corporate governance expert Lucian Bebchuk, he could yet settle for a smaller slate of Yahoo directors.******After spending a week telling the world how uninterested they are in Yahoo, Microsoft has remained quiet so far.******(Reuters)******Keep an eye on:***

    *** CBS to buy CNET Networks for $1.8 billion to boost its Web presence, and maybe laying to rest a CNET activist investor fight (Reuters)

    *** Ask.com to expand its vocabulary with plans to buy Lexico, owner of Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com (Reuters)

    ***

***(Picture: Reuters / Icahn at the Lazard presentation during the Time Warner battle.)

Icahn comes calling

icahn.jpgSomebody’s knocking on Yahoo’s door this week and it isn’t Steve Ballmer, yet. We wondered whether someone was building a position that helped keep Yahoo shares aloft since Microsoft pulled back from deal talks about a week and a half ago. 
    
It turns out that activist shareholder par excellence Carl Icahn has accumulated about 50 million shares in that time and will likely decide today whether to launch a proxy contest, before Yahoo’s deadline for board nominations expires on Thursday.
    
What may sway his decision is a sign from Microsoft that it is willing to come back to the table after Yahoo rebuffed a sweetened $47.5 billion offer. 
    
According to the Wall Street Journal, some other shareholder activists may be spoiling for a fight, including Firebrand Partners’ Scott Galloway, whose powers of persuasion won him a board seat at the New York Times earlier this year.
    
While all of this may not be good news for Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, the action could well buoy shares in the meantime, at least until he reaches his own conclusions on how to proceed.
    
(Reuters) (WSJ)     

Keep an eye on: 
* Clear Channel’s buyers and banks settle on how to finance the deal. (Reuters)

* Barry Diller and John Malone make nice on spin-off plan for four of IAC’s business units. (Reuters)

Microsoft-Yahoo: Google ‘hearts’ Yahoo’s search ads

schmidt.jpgAs the Microsoft-Yahoo will-they-won’t-they? saga drags on, Google’s role in any future talks becomes more apparent.

On Thursday Google CEO Eric Schmidt said a two-week trial selling search advertisements on rival Yahoo last month had given the companies good reason to discuss cooperation, but there was no deal yet.

That isn’t great news for some in the online advertising world.  As commentators have pointed out, a Google-Yahoo partnership (Yahoogle? Yoogle? Gahoo?) could concentrate too much power with just one team. This has led to some folk to paint Microsoft as the little guy. Yes, the same Microsoft, which is a Monopoly 101 case study for first-year economics college students.