Digital Media Panel Notes

I spent Saturday morning at Harvard Business School, moderating a panel on digital media investing. Good timing, given the prior day’s Microsoft-Yahoo news (really don’t know what we would have talked about one week earlier). Some notes:

* Howard Morgan of First Round Capital noted that his firm had been in talks with both Microsoft and Yahoo about possible portfolio company sales, but that the talks had “frozen” due to the takeover attempt. Most panelists agreed that the two companies are going to cut way back on acquisitions in the short-term.

* All the panelists agreed to that merger – if it happens – would shrink the buyer pool for their companies, but Dennis Miller of Spark Capital stressed that Microsoft, Yahoo and Google aren’t the only players in the digital media pond.

* We talked a lot about online advertising, in the context of a recessionary environment causing macro ad spend cutbacks. Most panelists played the counter, arguing that online ad accountability and price may actually increase online strategy adoption.

* I wondered if Rupert Murdoch’s decision to keep some WSJ content behind the walled garden could be a watershed for other online content companies – kind of like how the legal destruction of P2P sharing companies like Napster (mostly) ended the notion of free music content (not that it’s helping the record cos. much). Most folks didn’t think so, but Alan Spoon of Polaris made an interesting addendum: He thinks Murdoch is charging too little for the WSJ premium content (at least if it stays status quo). If someone believes content is valuable enough to pay for – particularly businesspeople – then they’re probably willing to pay a lot.

* Speaking of Murdoch, there was some talk about MySpace being unprofitable today, and perhaps unprofitable forever.

* Unrelated, but Paul Finnegan of Madison Dearborn gave the event’s morning keynote. Am I the only one who thinks he’s a clone of Tom Finneran, the former Massachusetts House Speaker? Sounds exactly like him. Shares a similar last name. And looks like him:

Paul Finnegan