Here is a perhaps crazy idea that sources tell us Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and her top executives have considered for saving the company: buying cable networks.
Here’s what we’re comfortable reporting:
- For sure, Mayer and Yahoo considered acquiring Scripps Networks Interactive. Yahoo considered Scripps during a period in time when Mayer and other executives thought Yahoo would have billions of dollars to spend following the 2014 IPO of Alibaba, a company Yahoo invested in back in 2005. Scripps is the $US10 billion parent company to seven cable channels including HGTV, the Food Network, and the Travel Channel. We’ve heard this from two sources, former Yahoos.
- Yahoo may have actually begun M&A discussions with Scripps regarding at least two potential deals. A Yahoo source tells us the company entered into “talks” with Scripps in order to acquire the Food Network. After these “talks” began, the possibility that Yahoo might acquire all of Scripps entered into the conversations, this source says. We’ve been unable to corroborate these details with other Yahoo sources.
- Yahoo may have interest in buying CNN. A media industry source close to Yahoo executives says there were “pretty active” rumours over the summer that Yahoo wanted to buy CNN from Time Warner. Buying CNN would cost Yahoo something like $US5 billion or $US6 billion, this source speculates.
A source with firsthand knowledge of Yahoo’s interest in Scripps explained it to us.
- Many of Scripps’s media brands fit Yahoo’s most in-demand demographic: women who are 25 or 35 and older.
- Scripps has “super brand-friendly content.”
- Food Network shows are “relatively evergreen” — a show about making pasta that was created in 2010 will still be watchable for viewers, and worth sponsoring for advertisers, in 2015.
- Yahoo would be able to distribute some of the original content it’s already producing across the various channels.
- Yahoo’s sales force would be able to bundle TV ads with Web ads, and thereby theoretically charge a higher rate for both.
- Owning cable networks makes it less risky for Yahoo to create Netflix-like long-form content. If the shows don’t work on the Web, at least they will have a home on TV.
Earlier this week, Tom Dolan of The Information wrote a post speculating that Yahoo would soon acquire CNN.
He wrote that “some sort of deal” between a tech company and a cable company “is preordained.”
Several major tech companies are trading at or near all-time highs, and others — a more select group — have drawers of cash on hand waiting to be deployed.
Media companies meanwhile are struggling through a prolonged cycle of decreasing ratings and a fear that the stagnant ad marketplace will soon plummet. For cable channels in particular, the business of making money from carrier fees is long past its peak and most are scrambling to develop digital strategies involving delivering video over the Internet that can at least reach some of the audience they have lost.
It seems pretty unlikely that Yahoo and Scripps will merge anytime soon. It would probably cost Yahoo at least $US15 billion to buy Scripps today. Technically, Yahoo could afford that price tag if Scripps shareholders would accept Yahoo stock rather than cash. Yahoo has a market cap that hovers around $US50 billion. But the only reason Yahoo’s market cap is so large is that it owns sizeable stakes in two very successful Asian internet companies: Alibaba and Yahoo! Japan.
Lately, many of Yahoo’s largest shareholders have decided that they would like Mayer and Yahoo to find a way to “monetise” those stakes, and return the capital to Yahoo shareholders — instead of spending it on big acquisitions.
One popular plan among these shareholders is splitting Yahoo into to two publicly-traded companies — one that holds the Asian assets and one that holds Yahoo’s core business. Estimates for the market cap of the new Yahoo range from $US5 billion to $US10 billion, about the same size as Scripps is now.