Why the AT&T-Time Warner deal might fail
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"In the end," Kara Swisher wrote Sunday, "I guess you could finally say Steve Case was right."
Amid the press hyperventilating over the proposed AT&T $85 billion deal to buy Time Warner, the longtime tech journalist offers a needed cautionary note: She reminds us of how Case oversaw one of the 1990s' biggest corporate disasters when his AOL bought Time Warner.
"It was a truly epic move, all predicated on the very big idea that distribution and content had to marry in the digital age and that whoever did that successfully would rule the next era of media and more."
And it was an unmitigated disaster.
She wrote one of many books on the deal, and how many at Time Warner had openly resisted the "the fast-and-loose slicksters of AOL." Now she looks and finds the past potentially prologue.
"As expected, the media has gone wild, dragged along breathlessly as they are for any holy-god deal, nearly forgetting that some of its current principals were the very same people that had been the biggest critics of the match-up of Time Warner and AOL." (Recode)
Well, yes, there is that, at least all the hyperbole. CNBC calls it a "blockbuster deal that fuses a mobile giant with an entertainment conglomerate, carrying with it the potential to reshape the media landscape." The New York Times stuck "blockbuster" in a lede. Ditto The Washington Post. The Los Angeles Times exhibited admirable self-discipline — and waited until the second paragraph to unload the cliche.
But Swisher "will never forget the mock retching sounds that both Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes and HBO head Richard Plepler made when I uttered it in an interview with them, way back when AOL was being foisted on them with the very same written-by-a-banker premise."
"On Monday, those very same execs will be the ones telling the world that this time it’s different, that this time is the right time, that this time the union of a phone company and the maker of 'Game of Thrones' is just what this era of convergence requires."
There will be tons of spinning about the merits of the deal. Lost in most of the media analyses, even assuming the deal would get government approval (no surefire thing), will be the tough, complicated realities of combining two complex organizations.
If reporters spend a few minutes actually talking to people who specialize in advising companies on such deals — and, for sure, there'll be a major consultancy pocketing huge sums advising these two on institutional integration — they'll learn the common denominators on why big corporate takeovers and mergers fail, when they do:
Leadership: the inability to retain the right talent in the right roles.
Culture: Figuring out if and how to blend cultures that preserve the strengths of both companies, not jamming one CEO's vision down everybody's throat.
Focus: Becoming way too internally focused on merely closing the deal (and making a select few outrageously wealthy) and integrating the two firms at the expense of focusing on pleasing customers (who'll include CNN viewers, among many) and outdistancing competitors, not just saving bucks with "convergences" that will win favor (briefly) on Wall Street.
Yes, it makes sense for AT&T to meld providing access with owning content to take advantage of its networks. But these are also two dramatically different business with divergent cost, capability and risk profiles. Managing them separately while leveraging strengths is tough. And it will be tricky for shareholders to correctly value them since many of the business (like cable and phone) are low growth, stable utility-like businesses, while the content companies (like HBO) are high-growth, far more volatile enterprises.
Beyond the surface logic of it all, this could also prove to be a blockbuster fiasco.
And the endorsement goes to...
Casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Review-Journal's backing of Trump gives us this scorecard of endorsements among the 100 largest U.S. papers: 54 for Clinton with a total circulation of 12.7 million, three for Libertarian Gary Johnson with total circulation of 661,000 and 1 for Trump with its total of 233,000.
Amid the gushing over AT&T and Time Warner
Thanks to Bloomberg for this relevant parenthetical: "But AT&T's debt may balloon to levels that would put it at risk of a downgrade. That's a significant concern for both AT&T, the second-largest U.S. wireless carrier, and the broader $8 trillion corporate-bond market, considering that this company already had more than $120 billion of debt outstanding." (Bloomberg)
The case for spurning a third-party candidate
In 1968 Henry Weinstein was a leftie Berkeley law student who wrote in the name of Dick Gregory, the comedian-turned activist, as a protest vote for president, in part due to chagrin with Democrat Hubert Humphrey in his losing run against Richard Nixon. Now, the former Los Angeles Times stalwart labor and legal affairs writer (a self-described Elizabeth Warren Democrat), returns to its pages for the first time since he split eight years ago to say one shouldn't repeat his youthful error and vote for any third-party candidate this time.
"Merely defeating Trump is not sufficient," writes Weinstein, now a professor of law and literary journalism at University of California Irvine School of Law. "On Nov. 8, progressives need to be part of a loud message that what Trump represents is anathema to a democratic society. Voting for Stein or Johnson will mute a message about the dangers of Trumpism that must be delivered as forcefully as possible." (Los Angeles Times)
"Snapchat says it’s now a camera company — with its forthcoming camera-glasses and its hundreds of millions of smartphone-bearing teen devotees reinventing the way we take photos." (Business Insider)
"But the company is also quietly taking steps to replace another iconic consumer device: the television. The maker of the popular social networking app wants to fill its online service with a slate of original video programming that ranges from breaking news to entertainment and reality shows."
Remember Rolling Stone's "A Rape On Campus?"
"In emotional testimony in the federal courthouse here Saturday, former Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely told the jury about the phone call that led her to realize that the story she had written about a horrific sexual assault at a University of Virginia fraternity was falling apart at the seams." It was with her primary source and underscored a new hesitance about certain key elements.
“'When I got off the phone, I felt like the ground had shifted from under my feet,'” Erdely said. “'The person I had talked to was not the person I was familiar with from my story. I felt that she didn’t have credibility anymore, which meant that we couldn’t stand behind anything that she had given me.'” (The Washington Post)
President Obama's round of golf yesterday was No. 319 of his presidency, according to Mark Knoller, the CBS News White House correspondent who is encyclopedic chronicler of all things presidential. But wait. He's a slouch compared to Barry Gibbons, 57 and a retired IBM employee.
Gibbons "hasn’t just played more rounds of golf in 2016 than anyone in the world. He’s on pace to play more rounds of golf than anyone in the world has ever played in a year." (Golf Digest)
Gibbons is in the process of obliterating the record of walking rounds (611) set by Richard Lewis of Texas in 2010. What’s Gibbons' target? 850. Yes, that’s eight hundred and fifty. That’s the equivalent of playing more than 40 times a year for 20 years. Or, playing 20 times a year for 40 years. That's a lifetime worth of golf in ONE year. And you thought you loved playing the game.
"The Front Page" revival
From Ben Brantley's review of "The Front Page" revival with an all-star cast including Nathan Lane as Walter Burns:
"By the play’s end, when Walter has done dirty by pretty much everyone, I swear you’ll be panting to sign on in his employ. The combination of Mr. Lane’s all-consuming passion for the theater and Walter’s for getting the story makes the endangered profession of print journalism feel, for a flickering moment, like the most vital job on the planet." (The New York Times)
The capital's noxious mix of players
Deep in a New York Times profile of Teneo, an advisory firm that's tight with the Democratic Party and makes big bucks assisting bigshot corporate executives, notes that "salons" for CEOs (such as Heather Bresch of Mylan, maker of the EpiPen) with D.C. players that are arranged to assist clients "are sometimes held in the home of Margaret Carlson, a columnist for Bloomberg View. Guests have included United States Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, and Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, according to several former Teneo employees." (The New York Times)
Carlson declined comment, including on whether she's compensated for hosting such gatherings.
The morning babble
"Fox & Friends, as usual, opened with a live report by John Roberts on the Trump campaign, with the chyron heralding, "TRUMP GOES ALL OUT IN THE SUNSHINE STATE" and Roberts live in St. Augustine underscoring spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway's never-say-die comments on "Meet the Press." The show later spent time with raised eyebrows over Clinton's claim she keeps hot sauce in her bag and an email (via WikiLeaks) in which an aide asks, "Is everyone comfortable w/her saying 'Yo mama?'"
On CNN, the discussion was rather more elevated, though pundit Jackie Kucinich paused when asked how Hillary Clinton would "heal the rifts in the country." She paused. Co-host Chris Cuomo saved her. "Free ice cream." Yeah, probably that and jacking up the minimum wage would help. And passing a law to limit the number of polls they're forced to hear about on cable news networks, as was the case this morning, with CNN finding the campaign close to over as Cuomo and co-host Alisyn Camerota overseeing a de facto autopsy of a defeat, including the flight of white women from mulling his support.
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Mika Brzezinski, a born-again Trump critic, asked former Republican National Committee boss Michael Steele, what made him ever think Trump could lead. "He got 14 million votes. you just can't throw that away and say, 'That was dumb.'" There was discussion, too, by an elite group sitting in a New York City of a Clinton-deriding and elite-bashing New York Times column by Ross Douthat, referencing Trump and a "blunder-ridden status quo." (The New York Times)
Nicholas Confessore, a New York Times reporter, conceded, "The elite in this country, the media, people like me, people who serve in politics, in Washington, are divorced and sort of apart from the rest of the country in a lot of ways...People who serve in the Senate are mostly rich. People who run the country don't know always what it's like to be run in the country." The autopsy on elite insensitivity seemed to come a bit cheaply.
A hypothetical interview for a social media job
From a very smart and droll publication, McSweeney's:
Me: I can see it yes. Can I ask you how much you will pay me?
Interviewer: You can, but I won’t really answer you with a real answer. I’ll tell you that we will pay you based upon how much you know. You do know things right?
Me: I know some things, but some of them are not things that help me work in social media. Should I tell you about those things? Animals love me.
Interviewer: Let’s focus on your strengths. What would you say are your strongest qualities.
Me: Decoding bullshit questions like these?
Interviewer: That’s great! Okay, well it’s been great getting to know you. I’m going to pretend like you’ll hear from me, but actually we’re never ever going to call you. Okay?
Interviewer: I just want you to be clear on the fact that you didn’t get this job, but I’m pretending that you got it. You understand?
Me: I think so. (McSweeney's)