LIVE: Dealmakers Debate

Lauren Rich Fine, media analyst, formerly top dog at Merrill Lynch
David Levin, CEO United Business Media
Alan Meckler, CEO Jupitermedia [JUPM]
Steven Rattner, Quadrangle
John Suhler, Veronis Suhler Stevenson

Rafat, who has apparently been criticised for not asking tough questions (his response to the audience: Ask them yourself), ask panelists if the credit crunch is affecting deals. Answers: Yes…

David Levin: Pace is slowing for UBM, which has been on a dealmaking tear. John Suhler: Big, billion-dollar plus deals slowing down. Midmarket deals like the ones that Veronis does are proceeding apace. Lauren Rich Fine: Deals done out of weakness (TRB) will fall under scrutiny, deals done out of strength (Reuters-Thomson) are doing fine.

Hey, Steve Rattner — What about newspaper deals? We look at and bid on newspaper deals, but haven’t been able to find a margin of error (translation: priced low enough so we don’t lose our shirts). Yet. Fact that only Sam Zell made a real offer for Tribune is telling.

Alan Meckler —  You’re buying a lot (hello, Laurel Touby!). What are you thinking about? We’re looking 10-20 acquisitions ranging up to $20M dollars at any one time. A lot of people think they’re Mediabistro, but they’re not. I won’t give out numbers but MediaBistro is growing at 35%.

Rattner: We generally avoid small deals because they take as much time as big deals, and there’s less upside. We find that sellers still want high prices, and money is tighter, so there’s an “adjustment process” while both sides get a better sense of what assets are really worth (translation: If you want our money, cut your prices).

Rafat, for obvious reasons, is very interested in the conference and trade show business. Alan Meckler tells him it’s not rocket science. David Levin tells him they’re launching in new territories, like India. A good trade show is a “black hole” or a “positive monopoly” — it sucks up everything around it, and all buyers and sellers end in same places.

Steve Rattner: What’s up with the NYTimes? Will they ever really go on the block? Pretty clear that the Sulzbergers want to keep it they way things are. “Hasn’t been slightest hint or suggestion that I’ve seen other than that.”

Q&A: What’s going with FT? Rattner not quite sure what owner Pearson will want to do with it. Murdoch entry going to add lots of pressure: Not room for IHT, FT and Murdoch-owned WSJ in Europe. So look for something to happen, probably with FT. Lauren Rich Fine agrees.

Donna Bogatin wants advice from Alan Meckler about the best way to sell a startup to Jupitermedia. Alan: Don’t use a broker – we like guys who don’t have someone representing them. We also look for strategic deals. Happier buying than building. Only room for two or three places where people are going — this applies in particular to content plays — you’re better off buying early on then trying to start yourself.

Rafat wants to know why no one else but Murdoch bid on WSJ. What about private equity? It was only $5B! Rattner gently suggests that no one else bid more than Murdoch because Murdoch wasn’t bidding for purely financial reasons. Lauren Rich Fine agrees, again: “There’s no way to make the numbers work” because print is “uncertain” and online is “competitive”. Alan Meckler says Murdoch stole it — it will be worth much more eventually.

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