FOBM Pre-Interview: Neil Ashe, CEO, CNET Networks


Neil Ashe, CEO of CNET (NSDQ: CNET) Networks, is a featured speaker at our “Future of Business Media” conference in NYC next week. I spoke to him last week on th future of CNET, tech advertising market, competition, and other issues. Excerpts below…pay particular notice to his answer about early adopter migration away from CNET:

What does CNET stand for now? We have demonstrated an ability to be successful in multiple verticals markets, from technology to television to games to food to parenting, to business. We have demonstrated an ability that others have not: to aggregate audiences of size and scale in multiple different markets. We’re the 10th largest Internet network, and we have build a platform of content and brand development that no one else can match.

Ambitions: To continue expansion, in short term. And then, moving into new areas.

Softness in the tech ad market: The tech market is further along in its level of maturation than others. When you look at Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Vista transition, the underlying fundamentals of the business are different than say when Windows 98 or 2000 were introduced. Now there are a handful of PC manufacturers, and consumers don’t upgrade just because there is a new chip. The benefit of that is that it is a more consistent and predictable business. The consistent 20 percent plus growth of the past is probably going to be lumpier going ahead, but we are long term bullish on the growth in tech advertising online.

The growth in portfolio verticals: Our CNET-branded properties are the biggest. We’re bullish on the entertainment and lifestyle verticals: Gamespot is biggest, but is now as big in terms of number of users. We’re excited about BNET, and Chow. The reality is that we’re the backbone of a lot of reporting that goes on in the tech industry, and we will continue to evolve our brand and content generation.

Early adopter audience and their migration: The numbers don’t say that. While others in the blogging community have anointed themselves as CNET competitors, the reality is that CNET is 20 to 50 times the size of any of those. CNET added more users in a month than the audience Engadget and Gizmodo combined have in total. So we have a major perception and reality gap between what is actually going on and what people attempt to benefit from saying what’s going on. The practical reality is that CNET is materially bigger than anyone who claims to be competing with us, and as a result, materially more effective. We build brands that move industries.

Acquisitions: We will be more aggressive on the acquisition front when we find those assets. Valuations: there is a pretty strong disconnect between public market valuations and private market valuations. That is not going to last forever, one way or the other.

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