What is a “Media Company” Anyhow?

With all the discussion of Yahoo’s next CEO, the question has arisen:  is Yahoo a technology company?  A media company?  Both?  Is there a distinction?

I’m still not sure I buy into this distinction.  The modern media powerhouse has to have its fingers deep into technology.  Perhaps there’s an argument to be made about the need to own technology vs. being an aggressive exploiter of the technology but I think this artificial distinction has gotten many companies, Yahoo included, into trouble.  Terry Semel tried turning Yahoo into a media company and by turning his back on a lot of the technology Yahoo had in development or practice, started Yahoo’s diastrous path to this point.

I think media companies can survive without owning technology but they’d better have a deep understanding of its capabilities and how that technology is changing the relationship between advertiser, media outlet and consumer.  I’m wrestling with taking this argument a step further and making the argument that the leading media powerhouses of this next era must own key technologies, that they are sources of key differentiation and enable greater control of the monetization process.  I’m not prepared to make the assertion now but I do believe that’s where we’re headed.  Note that I am not positing that all major media companies must also be technology companies but I think the long-term biggest winners combine the two (or more).

I know this sounds like AOL TW, and that gives me pause…but we’ve seen lots of combinations over the years that were wrong at the time not because the idea was fundamentally flawed but that the timing was disastrously off.

New Yahoo CEO?

UPDATE:  The story has been confirmed, and I got mention in the USAToday story.

Strong indications are that ex-Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz is going to be named Yahoo’s next CEO.  I find this an interesting choice, along these lines.  To get someone of this stature (appropriate or not; more below) probably required a commitment to let her come in and make a (quick) determination about whether to double down on search or finallly sell to Microsoft.  She’s a good candidate in either scenario, which is not true of many of the other names that have surfaced.  If they decide that search remains an opportunity for them, she’s got great technical chops.  If on the other hand a deal is to be made with Microsoft, she has a long history of “co-opetition” with Microsoft, and is a well-respected commodity there, particularly with Ballmer.
 
Whoever ends up in charge, if they don’t come out punching with a cohesive story about how not only Yahoo doesn’t get enough credit for what it has done, what it’s still doing and, critically, what it’s going to do, they’ll be trying to roll the boulder uphill, and that’s not a sustainable communications position.  That said, the challenge here has always been “what are they going to do.”  Lots of interesting things at a micro level which have never come together as a coherent, integrated strategy when viewed from the top.  Is Bartz the person to pull that together?  I’m hard pressed to find another candidate who has her combination of Yahoo familiarity (at least with executives), Microsoft relationships and technical chops.  Yeah, the lack of media/advertising background is glaring, but that was the case with Schmidt too.
 
I’m frankly surprised they were able to come up with such a strong candidate.  I thought to get someone this strong, they were going to have to resolve the Microsoft search deal.

New Beginnings

They say a recession is when your friend loses their job but a depression is when you lose yours.  By that definition, it’s now a depression.  Yes, I lost my job as VP of Disruptive Technologies at AMR Research.  Paradoxically, however, this now lets me begin blogging as I don’t have to worry about a byzantine approval process but instead have only to ask myself “do I have the time and energy?” 

The time:  most certainly.  Right before the new year, I ruptured my quadriceps tendon and underwent surgery on January 5.  For at least another month, I’m largely confined to the house with my leg in a hip-to-ankle brace.  Every hour or two, I’ll get out of bed and hobble around on a walker to get the blood flowing, but beyond that, I’m not going anywhere so I do have the time.  The energy?  As you might imagine, it took me several days to get my head around the double whammy of surgery-and-rehab and losing-my-job.  OK…it’ll take more than a few days to get my head around that.  But I’m optimistic about the future, mine and the technologies I’ve been looking at for years now.

And so I begin to blog about disruptive technologies.  Those of you who are familiar with my research for the last year know that I defined four pillars of disruption:

  1. Social networking and other community-based technologies,
  2. Mobility,
  3. Cloud computing, and
  4. Alternative (typically ad-supported) business models.

This is certainly a broad agenda and I’ll try to do justice to it here.  If you want to join the conversation, by all means please do.  If you need someone to look at your business and help with strategy, messaging and positioning, I’m your man (and for now, I’ve got the time).  Thanks for joining me here and let’s all survive the beginning of 2009 and thrive as the year goes on.