Will New Media Bid for Old Media? Here Are Some Numbers That Could Get in the Way

Photograph by Nick Dolding/Getty Images Close

Photograph by Nick Dolding/Getty Images

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Photograph by Nick Dolding/Getty Images

Old media vs. new media extends to leadership, too.

Now that Fox has yanked its $80 billion offer to buy Time Warner, some analysts and investors have wondered if Google or another technology company will take the plunge and make a multibillion-dollar takeover offer for a legacy media company.

Any deal of that size and scope would be difficult from an integration standpoint, and an added challenge is the generation gap between the leaders of old and new media.

Based on the companies we looked at, the difference in the average age between old and new media chief executive officers is almost 20 years. Put another way, the youngest CEO among the largest U.S. traditional media companies is older than the oldest CEO of the technology firms most likely to buy one of the content companies.

Here are the nine largest traditional public content companies by market valuation, and the ages of their CEOs.

Bob Iger (Disney) - 63

Brian Roberts (Comcast) - 55

Rupert Murdoch (Fox) - 83

Josh Sapan (AMC) - 64

Jeff Bewkes (Time Warner) - 62

David Zaslav (Discovery) - 54

Les Moonves (CBS) - 64

Kenneth Lowe (Scripps) - 64

Philippe Dauman (Viacom) - 60

And here are the most logical technology companies to acquire TV content based on their current businesses, and the ages of their CEOs.

Larry Page (Google) - 41

Tim Cook (Apple) - 53

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) - 30

Jeff Bezos (Amazon) - 50

Reed Hastings (Netflix) - 53

Dick Costolo (Twitter) - 50

Satya Nadella (Microsoft) - 46

Marissa Mayer (Yahoo) - 39

You can even add Verizon, AT&T and Dish to the list -- other traditional telecom companies that could add content -- and still, the legacy CEOs are all older than 53.

Randall Stephenson (AT&T) - 54

Lowell McAdam (Verizon) - 60

Joseph Clayton (Dish) - 64

This doesn't even count James Dolan (59) and Charles Dolan (87), who control AMC but don't act as CEO, or Charlie Ergen (61), who effectively makes all the major decisions for Dish, and Sumner Redstone (91), who owns the bulk of voting shares at CBS and Viacom.

Focusing on CEO ages may seem an oversimplification of the obstacles to an old-new media deal. Steve Jobs was 56 when he stepped down as CEO and would buck the trend if he were still alive and running Apple. But the difference in years may highlight why traditional media is more likely to consolidate with traditional media -- such as Fox and Time Warner -- instead of joining forces with a "technology" company.

The TV ecosystem has worked for decades, and its legacy players are fighting to keep its lucrative affiliate fee system alive by avoiding open platform disruption, the hallmark of companies such as Google. The media CEOs have decades of experience working within a complicated system, driven by endless negotiations with pay-TV providers, sports leagues, Hollywood studios and local TV stations.

And these older CEOs have led their companies to big returns. The S&P 500 media index has gained 234 percent in the past five years, while the broader S&P index has gained 95 percent.

Younger tech CEOs may see video content as an inexpensive add-on to fuel clicks to their existing products and services, rather than a means of revenue unto itself. While cable networks still reap billions in profit, Amazon includes video content with its Prime subscription. Google's YouTube is free. And Netflix's appeal is in its $7.99 a month price point. Apple, Google and Amazon could theoretically use valuable content as a "free" add-in to push the sale of devices.

This coincides with a younger generation that increasingly consumes content for small amounts of money, or nothing -- eschewing buying cable, music CDs or paying top dollar for movies.

Still, if Google were to offer, say $120-a-share for Time Warner (the stock closed at $73.04), Bewkes would probably say yes, Rich Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG, said in an interview.

But there's a reason the tech companies haven't made a bet into legacy content yet, he said. It's that companies such as Facebook or Google or Twitter are currently satisfied to be the platforms for content without necessarily owning it. They've left the old-world media ecosystem to the old-world companies, run by old-world CEOs, and they're waiting for the cable TV bills to grow so high that the system collapses on itself.

"The tech companies would all love to own content at the right price," Greenfield said. "But the model for content is so constrained. There are so many rules and structural issues that it makes it very hard for some of these companies to want to invest big dollars in traditional media."

Google isn't going to buy Time Warner, only to be stuck with distributing certain content to certain places on the globe, Greenfield said. TV Everywhere, traditional media's answer to Internet streaming video, is based on paid authentication, rather than free access to all. Most live programming still isn't available over the Internet -- even to paying cable customers.

Google spokesman Tim Drinan declined to comment on a possible Time Warner acquisition.

"You can get to YouTube anywhere in the world on any device with a click of the button," Greenfield said. "That's the antithesis of most of the media space."

It's possible tech companies will wait and see if traditional media self-destructs before wading deep into owned content. But a wave of retirements, and younger leadership, could be a quicker path toward new and old media combining forces.

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