FOX’s identity crisis between its TV positioning and website perspective is reminiscent of MSNBC’s multiple personality disorder a decade ago.
Reading this headline “Fox staffers say Porter Berry, EIC of FoxNews.com and former Hannity producer, has shifted the site’s tone to mirror the channel’s opinion content” today gave me flashbacks to my dalliance with MSNBC in 2011-12. Those talks died when Microsoft got a divorce from NBC but took place when we were a very different beast from an editorial sense. Either way, here’s a walk down memory lane via excerpt from my third book:
On November 22nd, 2011, my banker emailed me to inform me that he had met Moritz Loew—MSNBC’s Chief Agency Officer—at some conference that evening. As much as I’m the consummate dealmaker, it wasn’t clear to me why MSNBC would give a damn about WatchMojo. But MSNBC, I was told, was having an identity crisis. Its TV brand was a liberal hotbed of opinions, but its website was more balanced. However, it stood for one thing and one thing only: politics. It also served an older demographic and between MSN and NBC, the brand was simply too toxic for some. So MSNBC had decided to look for a lifestyle brand that catered to millennials. It seemed too good to be true. By now, media companies were scrambling to reach the millennial market which, according to the Pew Research Center, is defined as those born between 1981 and 1997.
I met Loew, a larger than life character, and we hit it off. He also championed a deal with us. A highlight in my career was presenting WatchMojo to MSNBC’s president Charlie Tillinghast, who was one of the most respected executives in the industry. Originally from Idaho, Tillinghast felt at home in the Northwest, working out of Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters.
As my bad luck would have it, just as things were progressing around the time I went down to New York to meet the team, Loew announced that he was leaving MSNBC for Huffington Post. Arianna Huffington had plucked him away, but his tenure there didn’t last long and he was soon recruited by Time Inc., where he remained until 2016.
Our talks with MSNBC didn’t die as a result of Loew’s departure, they died on May 1st, 2012, during a conference call. In hindsight the fact that Tillinghast felt the need to break the news to us personally (via phone) was a sign of the respect MSNBC had for us, but it didn’t change the matter at hand. At the time there had been rumors that Microsoft and NBC were getting a divorce. When Loew left MSNBC I told Jim that, with our deal champion gone, it was in all likelihood, dead. The call and news of the separation only made it official.
It was around this time that I was done trying to hook up with a corporate partner. I realized that I had to work backwards. If WatchMojo were to remain an independent company, what would steps would I need to undertake in order to make that possible?
Over the past 15 years, we probably had M&A chats with 100 companies. My book covered the web video revolution & rise of YouTube and how we navigated fair use and a rapidly shifting editorial/distribution landscape, but it also touches a lot of corporate development song and dance. I put those talks under Interest, Intent, and Action. MSNBC ultimately never passed the Intent phase, but I do wonder how my life and WatchMojo would have fared had MSNBC and I pursued that – since that all came before we made our big 4 bets.