Citi Media: Neil Ashe, CEO, CNET; Investors' Timing 'Impeccable'


CNET (NSDQ: CNET) CEO Neil Ashe obviously has a lot on his plate right now, but fortunately he was able to take a few minutes to discuss business at Citi’s 18th Annual Global Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications Conference. The event marked the first chance Ashe got to address the recent moves from activist investors, even as fresh news on that front was breaking while he was on stage:

Activist investors: “I have to start by commending them, because I think their timing is impeccable.” Last year at this time, all kinds of problems facing the company: under-performing assets, investigations, the death of one of its reports. “We now find ourselves, this year, in a significantly different position”: big changes in senior management, new independent board members, underperforming assets (Webshots mainly). As for the timeline, the company first heard from the investors after its Q3 earnings. After some discussions, it heard from them again in December with the news that the group wanted board representation. Ashe claims the company offered to hold meetings between the investors and the board, but that it never received a response. Instead, it got the news earlier this week, at the same time as the public.

Economy: “I don’t believe than anyone is bigger than the economy.” Meaning: if the economy does go sour, there won’t be much CNET can do to avoid it. But, said Ashe: “I wouldn’t say that we have seen a negative impact from the economy”. The holidays were strong “We remain optimistic”.

Growth: Huge opportunity for growth in China. CNET is already a leader in some categories there. Outside of China, the company will look for opportunities to expand its key brands – CNET, Gamespot, BNET. Ashe is happy with BNET, the company’s site for business managers. He says it has 7 million users and that it will be a significant source of growth.

Video advertising: “From an advertiser perspective, video works…. We’re starting to see that play out.” What Ashe means is that video advertising works in theory. How the company will actually make money from video ads over the long term remains to be seen. He acknowledged that it bothers if done wrong. “Pre-roll is wrong.” When users get pre-roll, they stop watching.

Staci adds:To be precise, Ashe had ample opportunity to respond publicly prior to today’s analyst meeting, including Monday evening at the CNET bash in the Hefner suite at the Palms. (I know — I tried.) The only option today was to cancel — which wasn’t an option — or meet it straight on, which it sounds like he did. Under the circumstances, give that this was already scheduled, waiting until he was in a room of investors and analysts made sense.

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