Media Mergers: CBS and Yahoo! Go Shopping for the Future

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Two media mergers and acquisitions were announced on Tuesday, each reflecting a different aspect of the rapidly evolving industry. CBS said it was buying King World Productions for $2.5 billion in stock, and Yahoo! annnounced its purchase of Broadcast.com. for $5.7 billion in stock. CBS's acquisition of one of TV’s biggest syndicators (whose hits include “Jeopardy!” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show”) underscored the pressure on the so-called old media to pull itself together. The Yahoo! purchase of the Internet’s leading supplier of radio and video programs (whose hits included the web broadcast of John Glenn’s shuttle flight and the Victoria’s Secret fashion show) highlighted the new media’s effort to capitalize on its own momentum.

The intense competition to keep an audience in the age of cable and cyberspace has put severe pressure on traditional broadcasters. “CBS in particular has been hurting for some time,” says TIME senior economic reporter Bernard Baumohl. “The King World purchase should infuse the company with a major new source of revenue.” CBS will now be in a much stronger position to sell television programming to others and, over time, to obtain it for its own stations.

“The Yahoo! deal,” says Baumohl, “is yet another indication that the company intends to use the enormous financial leverage of its highly valued stock to keep expanding. Yahoo! is now in a position to buy what it wants, and it couldn’t let this deal pass by.” The big Internet players, including the likes of America Online and Lycos, are in a race to strategically position themselves at the crossroads of computer, TV and telelephone information services. And so as long as investors are willing to pay for their high-priced stocks, the companies are willing to pay for high-priced new properties -- even if, as in Broadcast.com’s case, a profit has yet to be turned.