Perhaps one of the most well-known acquistion guys in the Web 2.0 world is Fox Interactive President Ross Levinsohn. The following is a paraphrased conversation he had with John Battelle at the Web 2.0 Summit earlier today:
JB: So you bought Myspace, it exploded. Google bought YouTube. You said that if YouTube had shopped themselves maybe they could get 2 billion, is that what you’d pay?
RL: No, I went on to say we probably wouldn’t participate at the price they sold for. YouTube is a fantastic property. It would have been fun to be involved. It went very fast, and perhaps it was the right deal for both companies.
JB: Give us some insider information, what happened when you heard about the deal? You and the folks at Fox weren’t pleased?
RL: No, that’s not fair. Pre-Google I had always expressed my support and had spent some time wtih Chad and Steve and the VCs there, and expressed an interest that we’d like to be involved if they ever wanted to sell.
JB: So after they sold they made a visit, did they have to make nice since Myspace provides so much traffic to YouTube?
RL: No, they didn’t need to make nice. Google is a large strategic partner for us, they are our largest partner really, and we are a big partner of theirs. When you look across the web, those who are your biggest partners are often your biggest competitors. You just have to manage these relationships and make them work.
JB: So the deal you did with Google and Myspace. $900 million deal across Fox Interactive. What is that $900 million for?
RL: It’s for Google to power search across Fox properties except FoxSports due to our MSN deal. It’s a pretty simple deal although the negotiations were fast and complex. People were saying years ago I was the dumbest guy on the planet and that News Corp was crazy for paying what we did for Myspace. You’re neither as dumb or smart as people make it seem. This is a hard business, nothing is as it seems. It wasn’t as bad a deal as it seemed at the time, and if we don’t pay 100% attention to it and grow it, it won’t be as good as some think it is now.
JB: Myspace streams more videos than YouTube, so really that price tag for it’s worth is now over 1.65 billion. Do you plan on ever selling it?
RL: You’d have to ask Rupert, but we have no plans to do so. But never say never.
JB: According to Nielsen, traffic declined at Myspace from August to September. Are you worried about that?
RL: I’m not worried, most sites are down at that time of year, it’s seasonal, and we had a similar dip a year ago. We’re launching internationally, Myspace Japan, etc. We added 320k profiles yesterday, that’s like the size of Buffalo. Time spent on the site has grown 30% in the last 6 months, and we’re up to 38 billion page views a month.
JB: What do you look for in a company when you’re thinking about an acquisition, and are you still looking?
RL: IF we’re not looking we’re not doing our job. we haven’t bought a single company in the last four to five months however.
JB: Does that mean there aren’t any good companies now? Have they all been bought up?
RL: No, I’ve been here all morning at this conference meeting with people and my head is spinning. It’s a great time in this business and media. I get excited about new things. It’s much easier for us to integrate companies into Fox now than it was a year ago. When I look at acquisition targets, I look at the people, and you can see their passion. I’ve met with people who I could tell they were just buliding to sell.
JB: Barry Diller said yesterday that an entrepreneur with a great idea shouldn’t sell. Do you agree?
RL: I disagree. Not to hedge, but in some cases if you’re building a really good feature, it may make more sense to sell. If you’re building the next Google, then obviously you don’t want to sell too early.
JB: One of the previous founders of Myspace keeps suing you guys. He’s now suing you over censorship because you are blocking his sites apps from being shown on Myspace. What can you say about this?
RL: It’s Brad Greenspan, and every motion he’s filed against us has been thrown out. It’s like a boxer who fought Mike Tyson who kept getting knocked down and then getting back up. He got thrown out of the company years before we bought it, and he made $40-50 million in the sale but won’t let it go. Life is too short.
Question from an audience member: Will Myspace open up it’s data like Facebook?
RL: Email Tom Anderson. It’s a good idea and one we’re thinking about and talking about.