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Just got off the phone with CBS CEO Leslie Moonves in his first interview following the announcement that CBS (NYSE: CBS) will acquire CNET (NSDQ: CNET) for $1.8 billion in cash. Moonves said CBS had looked at CNET for more than a year but initiated discussions only six-eight weeks ago. Moonves said, “We like their assets. We like the combination of them and CBS, the ability with these premium-branded sites on both sides to be working together and form this terrific group. We began conversations with Neil (Ashe) and board six or eight weeks ago and have gone through the process as one does. We went out there and met, looked at things and said, ‘this is a great fit for us.’ … We have plenty of cash in our balance sheet. We don’t need debt whatsoever. It was a tender offer. It was the right opportunity at the right time at the right price.”
— Jana: Moonves said CBS did not have any contact with Jana, the activist shareholders fighting for control of CNET, and he said he had no concern about it: “I would think that Jana that’s in at $7 and something will be pleased with us. I’m hoping that’s the case.”
More after the jump.
— Why wait until a few weeks ago? “As I said, we’ve been looking at them a long, long time. We have a great balance sheet. I think the ability of this company to grow together with us just made sense for right now. We’ve stated our goals are to expand in three areas: content, internet and outdoor. This accomplished two of them. These deals take time. There’s a part of them that wanted to wait initially, then they realized we’re a good fit the more we got together, the more time we spent together. Number one, I really am impressed with Neil Ashe and Zander (Lurie) and their group. We said, ‘these are guys we can work with.’ You deal with business issues, you also deal with social issues, and everything fell into place.”
— International plays a major role: “We’ve always said we would like to expand our international footprint and to have a profitable business in China is a pretty amazing thing to expand from. They have a profitable internet site as well as some publishing businesses there…This is a great plus to be in China because we all know this is a market that’s going to be exploding in the next few years. To have that footprint that is profitable today is pretty terrific.” CBS already had started international acquisitions, buying Last.FM. Moonves said: “This accelerated our process quite a bit. We could have continued buying this and that and other Last.FMs and we said this is a great way to jump start our position in the internet world.”
Structure: Moonves said Ashe would be staying on and would report to CBS Interactive head Quincy Smith. He also said he didn’t see a reason for additional cuts at CNET.
Acquisitions for CNET: “Not right away. Certainly it gives us a platform to add things to it but when you see what we can do with integration we can do with TV.com, News.com, the local things we can do with Urban Baby and Chow, where we have a great deal of local presence on the CBS side, and the integration of CBS Sports with CNET and GameSport — the male-oriented sites…”
Advertising: Moonves pointed out the ability for both sides to share advertisers and said the advertising bases for CNET Networks and CBS Interactive are very different.