On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Quincy Smith is in the red chair talking about his experiences as a money guy in Silicon Valley. Kara and Quincy cover his history at Netscape, the many deals he’s brokered and the classic choice between being a shark or being a minnow.
You can read some of the highlights from the interview at that link, or listen to it in the audio player above. Below, we’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Today in the red chair, I have finally got the great Quincy Smith, a partner at Code Advisors, an investment banking firm that advises companies on mergers and acquisitions as well as raising money. Over the past seven years, they’ve worked with companies like Spotify, LivingSocial and something called Revere Digital, the company started I started with Walt Mossberg that used to own Recode. In other words, Quincy is my banker. This is very exciting. He worked for me, but for free, so that was great.
Quincy Smith: Full disclosure.
Quincy was previously the CEO of CBS Interactive’s longtime media person. Way back in the 90s, he spent five years working at Netscape, where I met him when he was 12.
Twelve and a half.
Twelve and a half. Quincy, welcome to the show. You don’t look a day over 13.
Kara, thank you for having me.
It’s a pleasure.
Is it? Now just try to talk into the microphone and be cogent and intelligent, and that should work fine for us, all right?
I usually don’t like to talk. You know that.
So, I know, but you’re going to. We’re going to talk all about acquisitions. We’re talking about, not just yours, but over the whole media landscape and where it’s going, but let’s talk about your background a little bit. You started off at Netscape. This was a bazillion, million, I do remember meeting you. You did look 12 years old. You were irritating and obnoxious, and you jumped all over the place.
You were my slightly older sister.
Yes, exactly. So explain what you where doing there. Where did you go? You were first somewhere else. You were ...
I was at Morgan Stanley.
Right, so you started off as a banker.
I did. Don’t think less of me.
I always think less of you. Don’t worry about that.
You’re already starting from a low bar.
So I came out of Morgan Stanley and was harpooned by Jim Barksdale and Peter Currie to go over and work at Netscape.
Why? How did that happen?
It was ... it’s worth a conversation for all the entrepreneurs out there, which I am not. The object was a slightly schizophrenic job. It was both investor relations and corporate development, which meant you get to talk to Wall Street, but then not really tell them about what you’re up to, and I loved it. I loved the team. I loved the growth. We can get into that all you want, but when I decided that I wanted to do it, it was reasonably unheard of.
Right, it was. Yeah.
White Shoe, Morgan Stanley, and to the great credit of Frank Quattrone, he was who I was working for at the time. He was delighted that I got the offer, and more importantly, he said, “Take your two weeks. Leave now,” to which I said, “Frank, was I really that bad that you don’t need me anymore?” He said, “No, you’re going to go over there, and you’re going to do a lot of deals, and you’re going to pay us a lot of fees.” Which is exactly what I did.
What you did. Frank always gets paid, doesn’t he?
As he should.
You wanted to stay in banking, but you wanted to work for a company ...
That wasn’t unusual, and that one was sort of the hot company at the time. It was the ’90s, the mid ’90s.
It was the mid ’90s. Netscape was already public ...
Right. ’94, right?
So it had started to do something, and how can you resist the allure of Jim and Jim and Marc and Peter, and Mike Homer at the time.
We can get to Marc in a second too.
Oh we will.
Because as you know, he introduced me to my lovely bride. Most people don’t know he has that skill set as well.
Yes, he does.
So I was going there. The second meeting I took was with a second person, who shall be unnamed, inside of the Morgan Stanley halls, and I said, “I’m thinking about going to a company.” And the guy responded and said, “You know, you’re not going to be as challenged.”
And I find that very interesting as somebody who spent time in both the service organization and the companies, companies where you work hard. Because you own everything all day, and it’s on you to dig it out, and it’s on you to make something work. So at best, you wake up with sort of saying, “Sixty-five percent of my day, I think I got it figured out, but I got to fight like hell for the next 120 percent to make sure that this is a good time.” It’s hard. It’s super hard. And I would say that’s probably a lot of reason why bankers who go to companies almost never go back to banking. Now I’ve done that twice.
Yeah, you’ve gone back to banking.
And the reason I do that is because I think you become a better banker, because you know what the CFO says to the CEO across the table, but the real allure is why in the world would you go back to banking after you’ve spent time in a company actually building things.
Right. So Netscape ended up being a disaster, really, pretty much. I know. I know, legendary disaster.
I would think differently, for sure.
Well, what happened there?
As you may know, companies are not run like Excel spreadsheets. We were in three different businesses at any given time, and we went through a lot of transition period with some really good teams. I actually view it as a victory in the end, and I really credit the team that it was with. This was in the day of pooling and purchase accounting. So you had this deal where the great America Online, Jim Bankoff, but obviously Steve and Bob and all those guys sold signed on the deal at, I think we announced it at a $4 billions market cap.
You sold, right. Four billion.
And it closed at 10. And so I’d say overall, Jim Barksdale always reminds us all in his own non-arrogant way that we made money for any shareholder who had been with us from the get go, including the IPO.
Sure, but that wasn’t the goal of the company.
The company was to change the way computing was done.
I think it absolutely, certainly helped set up a good thing for people to expose themselves and get introductory introduction to the internet and from that, a lot of other things too.
What was the mistake there? When you look back, what was the mistake that it made? I know you can say Microsoft killed it, but it wasn’t just that.
Oh, Microsoft is ruthless and with unlimited resources. Yahoo was there doing incredibly well on certain things, and we were getting good advice and good counsel from a lot of people. But I don’t look back on it as a failure by any stretch. I look back on it as all the other things that it could have been, for sure, and I think a lot of people do. I think the most important thing Netscape had going for it, which is when a lot of these winners have it, is a great team. And that team has been with the Valley for quite some time throughout.
Yeah, they all went elsewhere and did ... It’s very much like General Magic or some other companies that do that.
They went elsewhere to succeed. Like, Mike McCue was there, whole bunches of people.
But as a learning experience, it was absolutely perfect for what it was doing, and I was incredibly proud. We actually sold a company to Mozilla the other day, which was super fun, because you get to work with some of those guys again.
Sure, right. Absolutely. So then you went on and did an investment firm with Jim Barksdale and Peter Currie.
That’s right. Yes, I am not a good investor.
No, apparently not.
Like all good bankers who think they’re good investors, it’s a problem because, you know, you are kind of like a Labrador, and you love everything. So the question is, “When should you stop loving it?” And I can’t help myself. You love every pitch that comes in and every entrepreneur with a dream. So the hardest part about investing, I’m always told, is when to come out, not when to go in. So, I’m not a good investor by any stretch.
So what did you invest in? What were some of the ones?
The Barksdale Group was about, let’s see, we ended up profitable, meaning we did return money.
Okay, not much.
But not much in a time that was very difficult. And I would say there were a lot of professionals around us, and I don’t think we were as professional. But now you’ve got Danny Rimer out there at Index, who has proven that you can be a venture capitalist, and obviously Jim is doing most of his time now, you know, giving back to the world. Mayo Clinic, and still on the board of FedEx and Time Warner. And then there’s Peter, who’s ...
Been on the board of Twitter and stuff like that.
Absolutely, as you know, endless talent.
So you went there, and then you went to a bank. You went back to Allen and Company.
Yes. Actually, Marc Andreessen introduced me to Herb Allen and Kat Hantas in the same month.
Which is your wife and your investment banker.
Single handedly ...
Your job and your wife, yeah.
And why did you want to go back to banking?
I never really left it. I always thought about these things in terms of transactions, and I like thinking about it that way. And I like, frankly, I’m not smart enough to have my own ideas, so the best thing I can do is go around. Two options. Either I can be like you and write about them, or the other is to help them build.
Right. So give me some of the ideas for the deals you did then for Allen and Company.
Inside of Allen? We did a lot of work with a lot of companies on the internet space. More importantly, I think for that, you know Allen doesn’t like to talk about himself very much, and I got to be a little sensitive.
Yeah, but you’ve left, so go right ahead.
Even then, we have to be sensitive. I just had a great experience there, but I did. I worked on some stuff involving AOL. I worked on some stuff with Google, or with other partners over there. It was a good experience. I helped it. I like to build it, and I still ...
Are internet companies different from other ...
Dealing with them, how so?
So let’s talk about that. So that’s the beginning of, I get your segue to media versus tech. I have some other things to talk about, but let’s ...
I know. We’ll get to them. I’m in charge of this, Quincy, so you might as well just stop right now and do what I say.
By definition, media companies, which is where, you know, I spent a lot of time with the client base over there, and why I ultimately went over to CBS. You know, a media company’s job is really to be, defense isn’t the right word, but it’s to be up there and smart about the assets they have. When things get tough in media they tend to consolidate.
Right, get bigger.
When things get tough in technology, they really laser focus on the product and really don’t buy anything at all. So if you looked at an investment banker’s stock chart of Time Warner or Comcast, you’d see if things are under pressure, they think, “What else can we buy to get our fiefdom bigger,” or, “How do we expand things?”
Whereas in tech companies, actually that’s the time when they don’t buy things. That’s when they really focus on what is going on with the product. But if they wake up the next morning, you know, and their stock is on a tear, they’re like, “Hey, maybe the market is trying to warn us, trying to tell us to do something.” More importantly inside the culture of entrepreneurs, when one zigs the other zags. Inside of a media company, that’s less the case. If Bob Iger is doing something, it’s more likely that the other moguls will follow suit in terms of what he’s doing rather than have a differing opinion, just because there is too much risk around it. But both businesses are really fun to work with and more fun than ever, and there are quite a few of us that think about this. It’s sort of, I think Ross Levinsohn calls it the 344, the miles between San Francisco and LA.
Right. That’s right. He was going to start a blog on his site.
Exactly. Try to help, and New York obviously factors in, London, all everybody, but the difference is between programming with the keyboards like we do up here and programming with the couches and the offices that they do down there.
Right. So you went from there to CBS to run CBS Interactive. It was an interesting time.
Talk a little bit about what happened there, and you need to be specific.
Of course. I went during Leslie Moonves and the team over there.
And they had bought CNET, right?
We bought CNET. We bought Last FM.
We were in there with a charter of interactive is going to get bigger. It’s going to impact things the way they did. I had a huge advantage going for me going in there, which is that we had bought SportsLine. And SportsLine might be one of the greater examples of a complement, how technology can complement traditional media.
So stepping back for one split second and then I’ll get into it. If you think about it, newspapers, they didn’t get obliterated by the internet. But some bad stuff happened because of the internet. At least it exposed to them the difference between how many people were actually reading it versus where the ad dollars were. In music, I actually think it’s a stutter step. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think pricing just changed, and we’re seeing that transition now, but if you talk to Lucian over at Universal now and what the great things that Spotify are doing with that, or other, or even Apple, whatever. They’re enjoying a better understanding of where their business is going from now, so it’s a recovery.
Video has actually, if you think about it, never been negatively impacted. It’s more windows, more ways to get paid. So as smart as we might’ve been up here marching down to the old white guys in Los Angeles and saying, “Your windows are going away. Give us your content instead.” They said, “No, no, no. Actually, we’re going to build a Netflix window.” And sure enough, on every analyst call, Netflix is now a big part of that, but so are all these guys in the ecosystem. And if you expand that out to the MVPs ...
But they resisted Netflix. Come on. They resisted.
They did, but in retrospect now, you think about it, video is the one media product that has flourished because of the internet, and you compare that also to what some of our mutual friends at Comcast do now. Not only do they benefit from that, you know, SVOD and over the top stuff right now, but they’ve also benefited because they sell data, which is more or less a raw margin play. So it’s actually been quite good for video-based companies on the internet, and one of the first assets we had bought prior to my being there was SportsLine. And the beauty of it that I noticed was when you play fantasy sports, something I know, Kara, you know well ...
Right. You become more of a fan than ever before. You play it on a Tuesday through the Wednesday after the game. When the game is on on your beautiful plasma screen television in your living room, you’re more apt to watch it. You’re more apt to communicate with your friends. You’re doing injury reports, player statistics. Sure, your phone is up and on, but you’re not watching the game on that. You’re watching it on the screen.
So if you’re Coca-Cola, you can now wrap your user on all screens and for many more days, a perfect complement. And that’s where sports always in this, and I used to have these conversations with Sean McMannus who was running CBS, both news and sports at the same time. It was, “Hey, why aren’t you coming over to news to talk about it?” Because there is no news fantasy. That doesn’t exist, so if you’re not breaking it real time with the robots of Google, then you’re going to be in trouble on the web. You can still do your features on plasma, but it doesn’t work as well as sports. So you’ve got to always think, if you think about what is the fantasy, and that’s one of the things we encourage the entrepreneurs that are looking in media is think about what your fantasy equivalent is, and go to these guys with a pitch. Here’s how I can grow your business bigger, not here is how is your business is coming down if you don’t.
So we buy CNET. The deal on CNET was I had known it forever. I loved it forever, since Netscape days. Halsey and Shelby were always great entrepreneurs and we were always having a good relationship out there. Nobody is without their drama, but the fact of the matter is they were super fun to deal with and always growing. And I had always looked at it when I was in Allen and Company and had done some work for it, but the object was how do you find something that does something in a space that your media company understands. News, sports and entertainment, and that’s what they did.
So it was just content on different screens for that, laid out that way. But if you think about it in retrospect, and you have your Vox hat on, we did it for $1.6 billion, and a revenue basis, and on a bottom-line basis relative to some of the other guys and where they’re playing even now today. I view it as a good deal. We’re quiet about it. CBS is particularly quiet about it, doesn’t disclose it or break it out, but CBS Interactive now run by Landzone is a super able piece of property that actually Jim can now expand that out.
But what was the concept there? Because then you went and bought Wall Street Week.
Wall Strip didn’t work so well.
Wall Strip was a good idea. I think we lost execution, but that’s on me, not on anybody else.
Yeah, but what were you going for?
The object was, how do you think about next-generation content? So one of the ways I looked at that ...
Right. So they were trying to do a BuzzFeed-y kind of thing way before.
And you’re not, well you’re not nice, ever, but you’re pointing out that yes, I think maybe there is room for a different generation of content. If you’re Kinsel at YouTube, you’ll call it neck content, or if you’re somebody else you think what are the shorter things. I notice that HBO is doing that these days with that high-maintenance thing rather than it being 22 minutes, it’s sort of three sets of seven. And that’s more and more where consumers are.
I think the argument is kids are goldfish, or you know, millennials are like goldfish, and they can only watch something for seven minutes. We all don’t believe that, but the fact of the matter is that kind of cut-up content might work. You know this better than anyone, but high maintenance originally came out of Barry Diller’s world, who was an IC property. So the fact of the matter is they would license it to HBO and it went. There’s an argument that that kind of stuff would work. You look at YouTube or you look at the growth of Facebook, and that’s directly attributable to that.
So another thing that that gets into is we think about, you know, is it going to be, for lack of a better word, professional content? Are you going to stream “CSI” on YouTube, when will that work? Or are you going to put up previews and clips of “CSI”?
What I think they were trying to do was create their own so they could bypass those. Correct or not?
That scale, so the opportunity of the internet for most media moguls is to get to understand their audience better than ever before, because there is now a whole ...
That’s what you were doing with CNET?
Everybody was trying to do that. How do you figure out where it was? With CBS, it was easy, because you had 93 million of the captive audience right there. So you knew a lot, and David Poltrack ran research, and George Schweitzer in marketing, Jo Ann Ross in sales. These were people who had been doing this for decades.
They weren’t where everybody was watching.
But they paid attention to what was happening on ours, and they could play it up to their grounds, and they used me. They used me a lot on that like a lap dog on some of those kinds of things, and it was a pleasure to be around people like that that were so professional.
I know, but I want you to be more analytical.
I mean, the concept was to get on the internet, to get themselves some digital.
Yeah, to be self sufficient on the internet, and by the way on the inside of a media company, if you have a P&L, if you don’t have a P on that side, you’re going to be in the dog house.
Well that’s the problem. Everybody else was doing experimental stuff.
So you got to find profitable businesses, which is what we did.
That’s the problem. They don’t get that good. They’re not the really good ones.
At scale, you can get them to go to 40 margin.
Yeah, but that’s not the point. I think a lot of media companies treated them as if they were profit and losses versus an Instagram or ....
So now you’re making a distinction between a platform like a Myspace or whatever, but you get a lot of learning out of those. The culture is the thing that ultimately breaks it down, and that’s why it was so important. I think Leslie, you know I’m going to suck up to Leslie.
I have to suck up. He’s great.
Please don’t suck up to Leslie.
These guys are rewarding him for all the right reasons.
I get he’s good at the TV thing, but the digital thing is harder.
He understands how content works, and he understands how to get audience to content to audience. I think James Murdoch is smart on this stuff too. Pound for pound, he’s one of the ones from his Sky Entertainment.
But you could see he missed the big moves like the Facebooks and Instagrams and everything else.
Yeah, for sure, but the fact is they’re learning, and I think they’ll be back at it again. Whenever again a time of consolidation is upon us as it is in media, they’re going to be back to look at it.
All right, so when you left CBS, you went and did this, which is where we’re going to go. We’re going to take a break in a second.
So you went to become a banker.
I have more to talk to you about than just that stuff.
I know. All right. I know.
I don’t want to talk about banking all day.
We’re not going to talk about banking, we’re talking about where trends are going. We want to go, so when we get back, I want to talk about where trends are going. But then you went back to banking in order to facilitate this concept ...
Between old media and new media.
And just because there was so much entrepreneurialism going on up here. Most of our business is based in tech.
What I want you to think about is the idea between, like, how do you bridge that gap, because it still seems unbridgeable.
It still seems continually, and where does that change, and how does that change?
You have as many answers as I do.
No, I do not. I’m just going to rely on you, but first, a word from our sponsor.
So this is Quincy Smith, who is a banker. He is a man about town. He’s a wearer of socks and sneakers. Tell me what you want to tell me here today. You want to talk about the media tech intersection and where it’s going. I want to hear some trends from you. Where do you see the big players right now? And who’s important?
I do. Thank you.
Because you have a chart here, so I’d like to have you explain your chart.
Like all bankers, we come prepared with printed out PowerPoint.
It better be interesting. Okay.
I’ll try. Otherwise, you can just turn it off.
Oh, I will.
But the fact of the matter is, I think media is undergoing a big layer of what I would call sharks and minnows.
Oh, sharks and minnows. Oh, we have metaphors.
And if you think about the way that it’s going up and down, the question that everybody is asking themselves is, “Am I going to be a shark, or am I going to be a minnow?” Meaning, am I going to be part of the consolidation ...
I think we get the metaphor.
Or am I going to be, okay. Then the fact of the matter is it’s starting now. Obviously, AT&T is making the move on Time Warner.
Yeah, going to get passed.
And that shows somebody down on the stack moving up the stack using software. My own personal opinion on that?
Based on nothing, certainly no conversations with anybody, because I’m not involved in the deal, yeah. It should pass. I’m sure it’s not without its trappings. There are probably pieces of it that won’t work going in the overall ...
Yeah, Trump hates CNN.
But they’ll figure it out or they’ll never get it.
Yeah, all right, so they’re a minnow. Minnow, Time Warner.
Which is an ironic concept for a lot of things.
But in that particular case, yes, but there is obviously much more that they need to do.
But that was given mostly by the playbook of, you know, Comcast saying Brian Roberts waking up one day … You have to think about these moguls on individual lines, right. So Brian Roberts, you know, he is an entrepreneur too. He grew up with Comcast in his blood. He’s 100 percent willing to sever his leg to get into the right market if he needs to be. There’s no defense there. He thinks about it.
Right, you have to do that, Quincy.
I won’t. It turns out he’s done so well just being offensive and leaning into things.
Yeah, so buying NBC was early. So this is them doing a similar thing.
And now look at the investment they do as well. The hardest thing about that is you are a product of that, having had NBC invest in Vox, is will they learn the same amount by not owning and controlling. And will they realize that the good entrepreneurs won’t always be owned and controlled, but instead they don’t mind having 10 percent.
Right. That’ll be interesting.
But how would you do that versus these guys ...
Such as NBC buying Snapchat. Big chunk of ...
These guys are going around the corner saying, “I’m happy to give you 50 percent.” Well, are those the right entrepreneurs that you want to have that happen to, and how does a media company work with these companies to learn and make sure it lets it grow and is fragile. Obviously you and Bankoff, you’re veterans in this space. You’re going to understand what it’s like to have someone as an investor like that around you, and you’ll know how to work them to your advantage. ICC, NBC all over you as much as I see NBC and everything else as a way.
Thank you so much.
That’s why the makeup is there.
So talk about sharks and minnows. Go ahead.
All right, so in that world, I think a lot more consolidation is going to be upon us inside of it.
Inside of it.
So let me give you an example, well, okay. So on that, I see a lot of different players happening. I think there’s a lot of questions about some, and there’s always in the sharks and minnows game a Megalodon that lurks in the back, which is Liberty.
I’m trying to get colorful for you.
All right, all right. Okay, we got a shark, a minnow and a Megalodon.
So the Megalodon is like Liberty.
Liberty owns pieces of a lot of things.
It might not own so much in ownership, but it owns a lot in vote. They have control. So Starz merges up into Lionsgate, now Lionsgate combined. Those guys are thinking about a very smart thing around a direct path and how they get to their audience directly. And how long will they have to do that? What do they do about discovery, and how do they think about Sirius and all those other things that they’re around? You’ve got Iger, Disney, who has been absolutely flawless, if you think about all the acquisitions and everything that they do. Now they’ve got arguably a chink of the armor or two.
And, well, I was thinking more about whatever they’re going to do. Yes, there is probably a few things going on there but they have a great team as you know. You know Jimmy, you know the team in our world, but you also know Kevin and the deals that those guys do. They’re smart and they are thinking about what to do next. They are going to need a safe platform. They are going to need something they trust that’s not raw that really helps them understand how to get closer to the audience and that side.
Look at their looking at Twitter. There are rumors of it, which they did.
I mean, we try not to make rumors on things that are around on that topic ...
I know you’re involved in that but what would be the thinking behind that?
I would think that, that one would be a little different ... the thinking on that, great, is the platform. So you have to think about what is that platform I’m going to trust when my brand is going to be out there ...
I’m Disney, right.
And make sure my guys get exposed, my people get exposed to all the content I want them to get exposed and so much more where I get to learn more about those people.
Right, that’s the plan. But the question is, is it too raw? Is it too ... is their hate speech too much?
The hellscape of Twitter.
Disney is a real brand and they have to pay attention to that. They really do a good job of making sure ...
Well, so that’s ... and by the way, they moved so quickly on that. Right, you look at those guys and they are so devastated that happened.
Where other terrible things do. They move fast. It wasn’t for them and that’s just how it is. Culture matters in this one. CNET mattered. That’s why it’s out there and that’s why LandZone is doing such a good job for them. But the fact is, there is going to be a lot more consolidation.
A lot more consolidation. You are talking about media companies buying internet companies. Let’s talk about that first.
Media companies buying media first, then media companies buying internet companies. Absolutely.
Or internet companies buying media companies.
Well, so that ... it’s interesting. That doesn’t happen that much.
It’s never happened.
Generally because things that you and I know, there’s drama involved in creating content and it’s not easy to do. I think that obviously Reed and Netflix ...
Try to name these people. Netflix ...
Sorry, Reed Hastings. Love Hoffman too, but Hastings has done an amazing job inside of Netflix. Really taking a technology platform and architecting it towards being good with content. Ted Sarandos as a hire is fantastic. If I was to pick on something, I think the next way without a doubt is Amazon. It’s got every piece around it and by the way, it plugs that into Prime. So you plug it into subscription-based models where you are going to put that content and put it there. The reason, not to get too catty, but the fact is, you’re going to need real talent over in Amazon who really understands that. When Netflix hired Sarandos, that was a real effort to say, “I understand Los Angeles is going to be a big part of me. New York is going to be a big part of me. Making content is. I’ve got to figure out who to get over there that really understands.”
Right, but so far ...
Let’s pick on Kinsel and YouTube. Robert Kinsel, prior to being No. 2 inside of YouTube, was at Netflix. He had a healthy respect and understanding of content. What’s more, he didn’t know how to program. Program code up north. That’s the definition. So you think, how did that work? It’s worked because they really understood where that content was going.
Although some people have already ...
I do not see YouTube buying a lot of content ever.
Because I don’t think it is in the DNA of a company that thinks that analytically and has worked so well doing that they are going to take those ...
All right, let’s get to the internet companies.
Let’s go back to Amazon.
All right, we will go back to Amazon in a minute, but the media companies buying things. They’ve had a mixed record on a lot of these things. They’ve closed a lot of them. NBC bought a bunch years ago. Disney bought a bunch, didn’t work as well. What do you think they should be looking at if you were a media company?
I think you want to find a platform with entrepreneurs you trust that are going to stay, because you buy it as much for what it is today as what this team will help you unearth in three years. I think that’s incredibly impressive. You’ve got to hold onto that talent and you’ve got to have that around. By the way, I haven’t left CBS. I’m still that call if Lenzo needs anything or Leslie needs something.
Certainly, but you left CBS.
But I will always give them advice.
Sure, but that’s different, that’s different. A lot of internet people don’t want to work for media companies.
Most of that team is still there and it has to be. That’s a huge tribute to how they acclimate it. By the way, that’s a mature, successful company that has a bottom line.
And, that’s impressive and that’s the way that they should do it. You have to be careful.
So what do they have to be looking at, because a lot of these things are highly valued. There is a bit of a bubble around them.
So you have to find a platform that is going to work for your audience. So therefore, if Snapchat, if it’s true, and I’ve seen a lot of press even coming from you that might not say it’s just about the certain demographic but let’s pretend it is. If you are Viacom, you are looking for that kind of audience. That audience is already defined. If you are ... I don’t know, make one up, but if you’re Fox News, you’re probably not looking for that audience. Right? So you’ll have to match it and you’ll have to match it with entrepreneurs who have like-minded sensibilities about where they want to be. There are a fair number of advantages of things that get acquired and actually go on and do incredibly well inside those places. But you are right, that’s few and far between. Vox, Vice, BuzzFeed have all shown great examples.
Those are investments.
Absolutely, but they can figure out how to work with these companies. Multiples of them, which is actually good.
And is that the future of them? Are these companies investing money in much the way NBC has been investing or Disney?
If they are successful, yeah. If they are successful, that’s what I think, but in the meantime the media companies will keep getting bigger because there will be more and more consolidation around.
Between and among them.
The curveball of the platform companies in tech. So here’s the thing that’s different than when we were in our Netscape days and you were in Boomtown world. The incumbents are not slow. The incumbents: Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple. They’re killers. They’re thinking about this stuff. They are innovating every day. They are buying AI companies. We sell companies, by the way Airbnb these days, we sell them to Uber as much as we sell them to Google and everything else that’s going on out there. But they are smart. They are not installed based, slow moving. They move incredibly quickly to deal with it.
I think Facebook is pound for pound incredibly well set up with Sheryl on the board of Disney to really understand content. Facebook is a place where I can actually see, maybe I would watch “New Girl” on my Facebook platform. I understand that very well. Twitter has done an amazing job, I think, with the live video defined as here is a place to go. What Twitter did was actually early on, they tried to do something like fantasy sports to be complementary. When you tweet, “I’m watching ‘Game of Thrones’” and you click on that link, your HBO Go didn’t launch, your set top box turned on. Nobody wants that more than a media mogul to happen. So if you can figure that one out, how do you do that? That’s a good thing.
So with these media companies, these internet companies, do you see them buying? Like doing what NBC, Comcast do. What do they do?
I mean if you are Jeff Bezos, do you need to own a Time Warner or a Vox?
I think Amazon is a real exception here. I think you’ll know that they are getting serious about things in media when they bring talent around that is recognizable from reading Variety.
Okay, not starting, let’s say a Jill Soloway, who’s done wonders for them.
You want to think about stuff that’s actually out there with people that are known name brands. They should bring on and say ...
Except they’ve done rather well making stars out of new things.
They have, but I think for the big stuff ... If you really ... the beauty of them is that they are trying to tie it to Prime. If they tie it to Prime, that’s a whole different element. That is what media was at scale. Oh my gosh, I’ve got a subscription service around it. That’s HBO, right? I’ve got these people on the way to keep the subs and to keep them more entertained is to throw more and more content at them.
But you’re right. If you look at the blueprint of how much more they’ve invested in. Hirschhorn, Jason Hirschhorn from Media Redefine, points this out everyday. It’s three, four billion dollars each between Netflix and Amazon going out, and the distinction between that and three years ago, if you look at it is actually, they are not buying old “Bones” episodes anymore. They are actually investing in their own original content. They are competing effectively with the media companies.
So do they have to therefore own a media company necessarily or not? They can just do it themselves?
I don’t think they do. I think they need some DNA in there that understands the media companies. I think they have to be willing to accept those things. There are some things there that I learned about in a major way which is there is magic there. Tech companies don’t understand magic because they are very analytic and grounded and so far it’s working for them. The fact of the matter is, nobody is up here desperate enough and by up here, I also include Seattle. That includes Microsoft as well. To think, “Oh my gosh, I’ve really got to do a curveball. Let’s put a bid on the NFL.” I don’t see that happening any time soon.
You don’t see that happening? Well, they can’t right now.
No, big licensing deals. Maybe. It’s complicated.
Can’t afford it right now or they are locked up like NBC.
They can all afford them, for sure.
But they haven’t done that. They’ve done little experiments around it.
Contracts. For sure.
All right. We are going to talk about that and more of like how much watching is moving around. See what’s more on this chart that Quincy has here.
I still want to tell you some other things. I’ve got other stuff.
You go through it. I want to hear them. All right, I’m waiting for you. We’ll be back with Quincy Smith who is a really irritating investment banker in the media and tech space who I’ve known for far too long ... and far too long. Anyway, I’ll be back soon.
We’re here with Quincy Smith who is my husband. No he’s not. No, he is my friend. He’s been my banker. He’s also a really interesting gadfly around Silicon Valley.
That’s a good segue, Kara.
So talk to me about these things you want to talk to me about. Tell me these trends. All right, come on.
No, let me tell you first about you.
Don’t get all think-y about me. No, we’re not going to talk about me.
I think it is important.
We can edit it out if you decide.
No, we don’t edit anything here.
Let me tell you why me and you are pros. Okay, you are a pro for the following reasons and I think people should know it. It’s because anything you hear, you validate from other sources.
I do, I check. Yes, I’m one of those crazy people.
And, the thing is, if you are sitting there minding your own business and you get a call from a journalist where you want to be helpful because you should be helpful because it’s part of the ecosystem and that’s the way that, that world works. What you say is, “I’ll tell you what. I don’t know anything about this but hopefully I can give you two people who might be able to help you.” That’s the best thing you can do. And more importantly, for those that are pros that really deserve it, you could say, “I haven’t heard anyone asking this type of question before. If I hear someone else, I’m not going to tell you who it is but I’m going to tell you that someone else might be around on it.” That’s the way to do it and a lot of people don’t know that. They are very well advised ...
And your point being?
You are a pro. You always act that way and you have great relationships and there is a reason for it.
All right, well, thank you for that ad for Kara Swisher’s reporting.
And your brother saved my sister-in-law’s life.
We’re not going into that. Now let’s talk about media, where it’s going. So you have this big chart here, so sharks and minnows, meaning either you are going to buy or get bought.
Meantime. Let’s talk meantime. In the meantime, the tech companies aren’t really buying as much right now.
Right, they’re not buying. What you said.
Not the major ones. And that’s because ...
And they don’t seem to want to.
Well, Ruth Porat made some good comments at the Morgan Stanley conference last week.
This is from Google?
Yes, CFO of Google. Who has done an amazing job. If you think about it at scale, Google could run more or less like Berkshire Hathaway. It’s got this core that’s doing so well.
Right, own lots of things.
It owns lots of things and do stuff around it. What she said is, “We are not averse to the idea. If a good idea comes up, we will think about it.” Which is right, it’s keeping an open mind on it. The fact of the matter is, they’re not buying as much right now versus in the days when David Lowery was out there buying a ton more because it’s a different stage that they’re at. Every once in a while they wake up and say, “The markets rewarding on this. Let’s go buy Nest.” Let’s think about this space. Let’s go into this space.
Yeah, that didn’t work out so well.
But you’ve got to give them credit for the vision for understanding more about where things are going.
And by the way, Facebook, in another way. They do all their big acquisitions when they’re on runs. When the Instagram, WhatsApp, all those things, never when the stock was under pressure. You tell me the stock was never under pressure but it was.
All right, so what did they do? Let’s talk about them. They have an enormous audience. Most of their videos are not directed in a way of a Netflix like experience.
That’s true. For now.
Do you see them doing that? Cause they talked about it on the last call. They said, “We could get into content.” Which I think made Amazon nervous. I think it made a lot of their people nervous.
Yeah, I have a theory about them and it’s really from a bit of a distant view. I mean, we haven’t had time to spend a lot of time with them because they are great ... but we don’t spend as much time as we probably should on that, but my theory is this. My theory is that Facebook is probably responsible for a fair amount of YouTube’s growth in the last five years.
Hmm, why’s that?
Because I think a lot of people watch YouTube videos on Facebook.
People use it. Shouldn’t they get them off of there before viewing?
So that is nuclear war. So, as you know, in the old days in browser world ...
I call them both about this issue.
And who is launching what ad and where. At some point maybe something happens but for now it’s kind of just this thing that just happens and YouTube continues to grow and Facebook continues to grow.
Because YouTube videos are being shared on Facebook.
And nobody is giving data around that kind of thing but it’s an interesting phenomenon to think about.
Well, Facebook knows.
That is also to say that Facebook’s time spent is actually by definition therefore increasing quite a lot. And that means it set itself up to be a viewing platform, right?
Other platforms aren’t as much. You’re not on Snapchat for an hour at a time. You are on Snapchat to do your thing and get off and then get back on. Right? That is a fundamental difference and that’s where I think pound for pound, Facebook is set up very well to be a next-generation media company. In fact, Sheryl Sandberg is on the board of Disney and she understands.
What do you mean? Do they have to make content?
No, they don’t have to make content. In this case, they might be the best licensers because they think about this stuff and because they have a team that really understands how to do it.
So you see them doing long-form video on that?
I think the videos should get longer but it’s based on zero understanding about ...
Right. Would they buy something like Netflix? Could you see them doing that?
I think ...
Also, who is going to buy Netflix? Is it going to get bought?
I don’t know that it wants to get bought.
You know, it’s funny. Reed Hastings is an amazing guy because he was a product of a merger of Equal a long time ago. Just thinking as a banker, so mergers shouldn’t be against him. He hasn’t done much, right? A lot of arguments say so far it’s working so why would I? Right? I think he’s got his head down and he’s kicking butt. He’s probably going to do that all day long.
But what I think should happen, I think that in that world, if they were like sharks and minnows like media, then you think there is Amazon and Apple, and we haven’t even talked about repatriation of cash, which is relevant to a lot of your political interest as well. Directly relevant because when most people throw out that number like, I don’t know, $700 trillion dollars coming back this way, think about the debt to equity ratio which is banker’s speak for every dollar of equity in, you can basically put $3 of debt. So it’s actually three times as much.
They’ve got a lot of cash to spend.
And just to throw a little bit of banker’s stats around on you on this. If you look at the semiconductor industry which you and I haven’t had to look at for quite some time. But it’s super relevant because at the end of a cycle in this, there have been more deals done in the semiconductor industry in the last two years than in the last nine. So, by market cap, meaning as something ends, as something sort of closes in on technology, they all merge with each other and that is what’s happened. Now you think about what’s that next level. The semiconductor industry has transacted more in M&A by market cap in the last two years than it had in the prior nine.
So why is it relevant to media?
Because if you think about a certain stage in that cycle. So media might be a stage in that cycle where it’s time for consolidation is upon us. That’s the sharks and minnows, but if you think about our world, the world you and I cover a lot all the time, social media or internet overall, rather than it looking like it’s coming to some finite end of some kind of whatever, all of a sudden AI pops up. You could make the argument that AI is going to extend that cycle even further, so I don’t think there is going to be a lot of M&A in the raw internet site.
A lot of the guys that are big in the incumbents don’t need to buy anymore. Google is making that point, right? Netflix is saying, “I don’t need to merge anymore on that stuff.” Amazon is saying, “I don’t really need to do it.” If you are Amazon, and somebody who is passionate about it, I think, “Why don’t you have a music service?” Why don’t you have ... look at Pandora. Why the heck would you look at Pandora? Because it’s right out there, it’s got U.S. users but you can turn it global in 12 seconds. You should think about that kind of stuff. There is that business, or if it’s the online stuff, why don’t you?
So they don’t though, you’re saying?
I don’t know if they do or don’t. They’re smart. They look at all kinds of things as they should. Peter is there, Jeff is there. They are all good at what they do so I don’t want to say that but it’s just interesting to me that nobody’s made that move.
That shows that they’ve got enough stuff going on that they are doing well that they are focusing on it.
Well, shifting, why did everyone look at Twitter and then not buy it? Was that more of the company itself? I know you were involved in one of the ones.
Look, here is what I’d say on this. I’d say, I think Twitter is in a good place now where it’s going to put it’s head down and pillow on its pride.
And I think everybody knows that.
Well, they don’t have a choice.
And I think you can’t buy stock in an open market. We aren’t going to be doing that so you’re going to be doing that so that’s where it is.
And I think some of the things they are doing in video, etc., makes sense. I think Japan’s valuable. I think there is a lot of stuff that they are doing.
So you don’t see a lot of activity in this space?
And by the way ...
Even with all of this cash rushing back?
So that’s the thing.
Trillions come back.
Right. Apple, we sold a couple of companies to Apple and that’s a very unique experience. The fact of the matter is, I don’t know what they are going to do now. They could, because they’ve got so much cash, they could go crazy on this stuff now. All the things that are written about ...
They could buy France if they want. Buy France. What do you think of that idea? I’ll leverage that to you. You could make a lot of money off of it.
That’s going to be quite a few heads on that one.
What do they do? They have all this cash, what do you they do? You can see Google spending a lot of money in the cloud.
When you have this kind of cash from a banker perspective, there are three things you can do. One is you can buy back stock, which is almost never heard of in our world. In media world, it’s heard of all the time.
Right, they do that.
Two is you can dividend it out.
They don’t like to do that.
Well, Microsoft thought about that, right, so there are a couple companies that can think about that stuff. Third is yes, you put it to work. That will be really interesting around it. In the meantime, you’ve got all this other stuff going on that we haven’t even spoken about. Right?
So now you’ve got to think, you’re at scale. You’re Google, Alphabet, you’re Apple, you’re Amazon. You need to support that kind of growth. You’re Facebook. I think Facebook is growing at 46 percent or something like that. I mean crazy numbers.
It’s hard to do.
So what are you going to buy, right? Everybody says, “What’s the next Facebook?” Well, freaking Instagram was the next Facebook and they bought that so they figured this stuff out. So the question is, what are you they going to do next and that is where the rumors come of like, will Google ... and you know better than I, there is a lot of fingerprints in there to think about enterprise. Is there an enterprise play for Google to make to grow?
Yes, there is. Sales growth.
There could be. There is a lot of stuff going on there that they are going to start to think about as they do it. In the meantime, they may have assets that aren’t core to them that they’ll say, “Maybe it’s better if I drop my ownership down to 40 percent as opposed to owning 100 percent and giving some other people and float it as public.” That would be the Berkshire Hathaway move and I see them kind of doing that. That’s actually what Liberty did.
So, you think about how they get out there.
But not making these massive acquisitions.
I don’t see them doing it.
Yeah, what about Apple?
Apple’s always an enigma. Always complicated.
Hasn’t really bought anything that big.
They are so interesting. You know and I know when the rumors came out about Eddy Cue thinking about buying Content Lab, you knew that, that was just wrong DNA and it’s not his style. It’s not his style. He does so well supporting all these guys then why would you do that.
They are getting into shows. They showed that off at Code Media. They showed off there.
Yeah, that was impressive.
How do you think that’s going to go?
I think ...
Well they’ve been pretty slow. They kept saying, “Well, we’re interested in media,” but they weren’t quite all-in. It seemed like it was a little bit like, “We’ll see.”
The problem again is it is not zeroes and ones. You have to have a real skill set. At the corporate level, you have to have tolerance for that skill set.
Right, right. They seem reticent. That’s what I would say. His interview was reticent, like, “Hey, we’re going to try these two shows.” But it seems to me if you’re not going to go all in, you’re not going to do well. You’re not going to take a big risk. On the other end of the spectrum, Amazon puts it all in for “Transparent” and other shows and “The Man in the High Castle” and it’s enormous.
Incredible. Yeah, “Manchester by the Sea.”
I was talking to Jill Soloway who is coming to the Code Conference and she was talking about that, she is selling paper towels. She is like, “I’m selling more paper towels.”
That’s what I mean by tying it to the Prime. You tie that to the Prime membership and that’s why people come back.
Well then I sent her in. I said, “Tell them you want a piece of the paper towels.”
That’s a better value proposition than anybody else has. They have really figured that out.
That’s why I think Amazon probably has the biggest opportunity in media right now. That’s not an insult to Google by any stretch because they’ve got bigger opportunities in other places, but the fact of the matter is remember as a banker, we’ve got to love all of God’s children.
No, we don’t.
But the fact of the matter is, Amazon could really make a run on Media Herald.
Right, right. You see them doing that. Is there anyone else on Facebook maybe?
Maybe. Facebook is the one that all media companies don’t view as a potential enemy. There is no side of it.
Isn’t that funny?
There is no side of it where they come up to say, “Yeah. I’m happy to talk to about it but please don’t put the fiber guys in my way.”
All right, we are going to end up talking about, is there anything else in that chart you want to bring to my attention?
Let me see what else I have that’s fun.
I want to talk about fake news and stuff like that. You have been in the news business. I want to end up a few minutes talking about fake news and do you think that poses a threat? Like these companies now macro a 6,000-word essay, his Harvard thesis he never turned in, on that concept, on the idea of community. Do you think that these companies are starting to get the responsibility in media? That they have a responsibility and that they need to do something with that responsibility?
So I think you ... look, this is going to sound like I signed up as well so I apologize in advance, but I think the way that you have been handling this is remarkable. You need to ... many people around our community need to remind us all to keep everyone honest right now. The one thing I’ve noticed about this is that it is, and we can get the personal out of the way as well. I’ll handle that in a second. The fact of the matter is we need to be vigilant about making sure that we don’t go the way of some other areas and trends seem to be saying that we are going and that we keep everybody honest. I think that cannot be done without people making comments like you’re making and making sure that we are constantly reminding ourselves of what’s happening here.
What do you think of the issue? Has somebody understood it’s impact on news or media yet?
Because they don’t seem to. Why? Because they control enormous amounts.
Same deal. Zeroes and ones versus couches. It’s a different kind of programming.
But they still have impact?
They absolutely have impact and they’re not wrong to think about it, but they think about it in very well grounded, you know this, high-end academic ways that don’t always apply to street fighting. Street fighting is absolutely required in what a lot of people do.
Here they are ... between Google and Facebook, they have sucked up all the advertising dollars. Pretty much online.
Yeah, it seems like Snapchat is getting in there as well and Twitter.
It’s getting in there but it’s tough. It’s pretty much Google.
I think Snapchat was what? The fourth fastest from zero to a billion, or could be maybe by the end of the year.
True, but still too small. Too small.
Twitter was the fastest from two to three, which is super interesting.
So, they still don’t take the responsibility they have as media companies. They don’t even like to call themselves that.
Why would they?
Do you think of them as media companies?
No. If it’s a media company then Google works as hard as it can to get everybody off its site as fast as possible.
That’s a true irony rule. No, it sells advertising. It offers advertising, but I don’t think of it as a media company.
What do you call it?
Facebook I think does because I think it deals with engagement. I think being a media company is absolutely at its core is about engagement and content programming. Programming defined as curating content towards an audience.
Even if you don’t make it?
Absolutely, distributing it. Media. Absolutely, but in this particular case I think Amazon’s thinking about it, but it’s commerce.
Yeah, they are trying to sell paper towels.
Can you marry content and commerce? I’d argue that Yahoo tried to do that for a while. I’d argue that some of these guys tried to do it more and more. You could argue that Refinery29 is out there trying to do that proposition right now in a very specific space but if they can back that in. I remember thinking at first, “Wow. Once we bought CNET, wouldn’t it be great if we went out to Amazon and said well now we can put reviews up on your thing.” I realized from Amazon’s response, do you have any idea that we’re dedicating 100 percent of our pixels to commerce?
E-commerce. A pretty good business. I don’t have time for your content on this site.
Right, we don’t need it.
So that’s just a DNA issue. Now all of a sudden they are getting more used to that, that’s time difference, number of Prime users.
So if it’s they can sell more stuff?
Absolutely, and then you go back to the media folks. I think content is always going to be king. I’m biased.
I’m trying to think that. I think that it will always be at its core, and peer plays will always have a place. The question is, where and at what level do they and how do they think about it?
But does Facebook have the same responsibility that, say, a Vox Media ...
Oh, you’re going back to this?
Or a New York Times have? Does it? Does it take that responsibility seriously?
It’s a great question of course. If you think about it in media terms, I think the same question is, “Does Comcast have the same requirement as CBS?”
Yes, because they own NBC. They are NBC.
So take NBC away.
Well you can’t. They own it. They are fulfilling their obligation.
When somebody goes onstage and does something wrong on a halftime show during a Super Bowl, who is accountable? Is it the platform that delivered it to you or is it the content?
Well that is a very good question, Quincy Smith. You’ve actually flummoxed me.
If you look at the way the courts decided, it’s the content. So you have to think about that. That doesn’t mean that the content or the platform shouldn’t also feel accountability and you all know the beauty of the people that we deal with day to day up here. They are not arrogant.
I always think of that as ... it’s not arrogance. It’s a little bit naïve but it’s a little bit academic and it’s a little bit I’ve got other things I’m paying attention to with all due respect.
But they are certainly willing to entertain and they are certainly smart enough to listen to it and to try to respond. We had the same issue with YouTube, what? Ten years ago when they were doing beheadings up there and they took a stand.
After much pressure.
And they realized. After much pressure. But there you come with the pressure.
It wasn’t their first instinct.
The one thing that this guy has done is galvanize people to actually pay attention. I hope that Kerry is on. I hope and I think the smart ones are thinking about two years from now, not four years from now. I love that they are.
All right, last question. What does the media company of the future look like? It’s not Rupert Murdoch for sure. Or is it? Or is it just going to be, “I own Fox News.” I own a thing. I make “Wolverine” movies. What is it? Because it can’t be what it is.
Because of the interwebs, I think media has made it so that it’s not only it’s opportunity, it’s the requirement. It’s the mission that it needs to understand the audience directly. Before, you could put up a show and you could make sure the people watched it and at the end of the month you would get a check. That’s not exactly how it works but you would get a recap of how many people watch it and then you think about. Sometimes the next morning. But I think now more and more, you’ve got to be closer to your audience than before. That’s an opportunity, it’s not a threat. You’ve got to understand that this is a chance to actually be better at programming for this audience. The problem is, that takes an analytic mind as well as a creative one. I think at core, analytics becomes much more central to media companies and I think they know it.
They know it. Who is your favorite media executive? Don’t say Les Moonves.
I love Leslie Moonves.
Everything for Leslie Moonves. When you think about the pure play in Lionsgate, you think about a lot of plays in there. There are a lot of great media people that really understand. I tell you what, I don’t know who would want Bob Iger’s job. You think about it, he’s done such an incredible job.
Who? Who would you pick if you could put there?
Well I was wrong. If you think about it ...
I didn’t say you were wrong. Who would you put in there? Say Bob Iger is not there. Okay. Bob goes and runs for president. Whatever. He is not doing that.
I think you ... I mean again, I don’t know that company well enough to be able to say but I think a lot of people were surprised about Tom Staggs. I think that there’s a lot of folks around it so I think, you know, the one they always say for a deal is Reed Hastings.
Then I’d say what you and I both say is that Reed is pretty happy where he is right now. That’s a pretty hard thing to do to walk into an organization like that as a new person.
Yeah, fair point.
When you walk around the corner and see every other president on there has been doing this for 35 years with all due respect so you have to think about it.
You’ve got to think about it.
You need succession planning. There is a little bit of a weakness in a lot of areas in the next-gen media mogul.
Media companies, right?
It really doesn’t have that anymore.
I could name a few names but they don’t have them. They don’t have them like you and I see every day up here.
Where you have strong No. 2s either leaving to other places or strong No. 2s moving up. That’s super impressive and they do have a succession plan.
All right, last question. Tip for an entrepreneur? What mistake did you make, Quincy, besides meeting me?
Meeting you was probably my greatest mistake.
Meeting you for lunch that day, 20-odd years ago.
Tip for an entrepreneur? Not all businesses are run like Excel spreadsheets.
When we think about companies, because we’re a merchant bank as well, we say it’s an independent bank, anything but say boutique, the fact of the matter is the first question that we always ask ourselves going into any commitment committee whether it be to invest, to help them raise, or to help them sell is, “What is the team like?” Because you know that company’s going to move in and out, pivot as they say. The key is what does that team look like at core and can it survive through all of that.
Right, so don’t look at the number?
The team matters. Without a doubt. And that’s from Netscape days.
So I won’t ask you about Uber right now?
The team matters.
The team matters. All right, Quincy Smith. Thank you so much, that was very instructive. I learned a lot of things. I agree with you on a couple things. I didn’t think I would, but thank you for coming by.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.