March 2, 2017

When it came to once slice of the media Thursday, Jeff Sessions was generally trumped by Evan Spiegel.

Contacts with Russians? Lying to a Senate committee deliberating his nomination? Need for a special prosecutor? Step aside as Attorney General?

Well, that was grist for the mills of Washington-focused media and the cable news channels Thursday — and with good reason. But on CNBC and Fox Business, as with print and digital business outlets, much of the morning was consumed with a Snap IPO and coverage equally passionate and conflicting as what met Sessions.

You had live-blogging at The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, in the same fashion that’s no commonplace with big political and sports events.

As soon as Ryan was done, it was back to the Snap IPO and opening price, above $24 a share, that itself was both a surprise and the inspiration of the morning-long rolling of eyes among a fair number of commentators, both old and new guard.

Was this the second coming of Facebook or, perhaps, the second coming of problem-plagued Twitter? Was Snap leader Evan Spiegel the next Steve Jobs, or something short of that on a day in which he at least became a paper billionaire, leading a money-losing but very “hot” enterprise?

“Does Wall Street understand what they’re investing in?” asked Kristen Scholer, co-host on Cheddar, a sharp new digital financial news outlet that’s a rising millennials-focused challenger to CNBC.

She asked that hours before the actual start of Snap trading and with colleagues both on the floor and outside the New York Stock Exchange, trying to assess the early appetite for the stock.

Jon Steinberg, her co-host and Cheddar’s opinionated and tartly droll founder, checked out the precious few Snap officials on the exchange floor, at one point spying board member Joanna Coles, chief content officer at Hearst Magazines, and informing viewers, “The one who looks like (actress) Tilda Swinton.”

Gene Munster, managing partner of Loop Ventures and a tech expert, was among Cheddar’s many pundits raising similar questions about Snap Inc. Is it a “camera company,” as its founder Evan Spiegel suggests? Can it successfully morph from video-driven social media favorite of a younger crowd into more of hardware company that attracts an older audience that’s got more disposable income and is thus more attractive to advertisers?

How does it protect its critical (so far) identity as youth-oriented and evolve? Can Spiegel prove Jobs-like as a visionary and entrepreneur?

It was perhaps revealing that Munster, an investor, was on one hand upbeat about Spiegel and his strategic notions but unequivocal when asked about whether he was going to invest on this opening day. “No,” he said.

Steinberg said, “This is nuts” about the early pricing of the stock. Yes, Snap is transformative but it is way overpriced, he argued.

Others agreed and suggested that this would be a rerun of Twitter, which went public, started high, then tanked, showing the frequent fumbling of Wall Street in valuing social media companies. And, remember, several noted, Snap lost $500 million last year.

Fox Business, a competitor to CNBC, beckoned observers and investors wary of putting any of their money into the IPO at this point.

Steve Cortes, chief strategist for BGC Partners, said, with no ambiguity, “I think this is a fool’s errand. It reminds me of Ponce de Leon chasing the fountain of youth. Well, this is a stock version of that.”

Cortes expounded to host Stuart Varney in a more closer-to-home fashion.

“Yes, kids are utterly addicted to it. I have three teen daughters. They think that oxygen comes out of Snapchat, that’s how connected they are to it. But, guess what? They don’t have any money — unless we (he and his wife) give it to them.”

“I much prefer Facebook, with a demographic that is sticky and has money,” Cortes concluded.

Initially, enough others parted company with that assessment — there were some clear generational rifts even among tech analysts — to give Snap a rather head-turning valuation, as this Wall Street Journal post by reporter Erik Holm made clear:

“At its opening price of $24 a share, Snap now has a market valuation of $33.3 billion on a diluted basis.”

“That puts it ahead of some household names, by a wide margin. It’s a larger market capitalization than the combined values of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Ralph Lauren Corp., Kohl’s Corp. and Xerox Corp. put together.”

“And it puts Snap in the range of Target Corp. and home and auto insurer Allstate Corp.”

But, inevitably, this was also a media story, giving insight into the evolution of an increasingly sophisticated, if fragmented world of covering finance, tech and various markets.

And, if you were Cheddar, which has cut a variety of important early partnerships, this was a mix of the Super Bowl, a State of the Union Address and a presidential debate all thrown into one.

It was why Steinberg couldn’t offer me any great wisdom about the overall coverage when he briefly came up for air, only on what he’d been up to:

“I was so heads-down I only know what we did. First IPO in live 360 on FB, Twitter and YouTube. All our platforms live!”

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

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