Why old media is running scared of Google

That's a big reason behind of spate of old media-new media pairings in the last year. But is it a strategy that will be enough to restrain Google's growing appetite?

Talk about missing the forest for the trees. With everyone and their mother-in-law predicting a coming wave of acquisitions of so-called new media companies by old media outfits, that future's already snuck up on us.

In the last year:

•  Cox bought Adify
•  Hi-Media Group bought Fotolog
•  Time Warner's AOL bought Bebo, Quigo, Third Screen Media
•  Comcast bought Plaxo
•  Disney bought Club Penguin
•  CBS bought Last.fm, CNET Networks, Wallstrip, Dotspotter
•  Microsoft bought 1.6 percent of Facebook
•  Hearst bought Kaboodle and Answerology
•  Jupiter Media bought MediaBistro
•  News Corp. bought Photobucket, Beliefnet
•  The New Times bought Freakonomics blog
•  Forbes bought Clipmarks
•  Discovery bought Treehugger

If you use News Corp.'s 2005 acquisition of MySpace.com as the starting point, the list gets longer. Going back that far, there's been more than $19 billion worth of significant mergers between the biggest old and new media players in the online media industry.

After Microsoft launched its late January takeover bid for Yahoo, a lot of new media start-ups hoped it would trigger a chain reaction where they'd be able to cash out. It's easy to understand their anxiety. A recent report from PubMatic concluded that:


• On average, Web site monetization dropped by 23 percent from 49 cents in March to 38 cents in April.

• Among the verticals, social networking led the plunge with monetization dropping 47 percent, from 37 cents in March to 19 cents in April, below January lows of 22 cents. Entertainment monetization dropped 17 percent from 40 cents in March to 33 cents in April. Gaming and sports were down marginally (4 percent and 5 percent, respectively). Technology remained relatively flat at 83 cents in April vs. 82 cents in March, but is still off January highs of 92 cents.


Maybe a bunch will still cash out before the window slams shut but the more interesting question is why more media giants haven't built their online empires organically? The snarky explanation is that they're too hidebound and slowed by bureaucracy to think creatively about this stuff. But that's too easy and misses the bigger point.

I think Piper Jaffrey's Gene Munster offers a better answer when he wrote in a recent report that Google "has forced old media companies to realize they must act immediately or lose relevance in the Internet space." He may be right about that. These companies typically came late to the party when they recognized that lots of their customers (and advertisers) were heading to the Internet. And thanks to the Yahoo novella, we've seen how even a company like Microsoft, which doesn't fit under the "old media" label, finds itself scrambling to find answers to the Google question.

I just don't know whether the land grab strategy will be enough to restrain Google's growing appetite. Maybe it is, but I wouldn't want to take that bet.

• Update: 2:05 PM
And the beat goes on. This afternoon comes word that Conde Nast is buying Ars Technica. So who's next?

 

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