Perhaps the avatars of media synergy are beginning to realize that it doesn’t work.
Disney has announced that its online sites (ESPN.com, Disney.com, ABCNews.com, GO.com, etc.) are collectively making money. After abandoning its synergy-driven GO.com strategy and giving its business units both control of and responsibility for their online divisions, they figured out a way to make a buck with online content.
“I feel good that we’ve been able to sort of figure it out,” said Steve Wadsworth, president of the Walt Disney Internet Group.
Astonishingly, AOL/TW told the NY Times that Harry Potter hasn’t and isn’t going to be carrying a lot of synergistic baggage:
“The biggest advantage we have had from AOL Time Warner is the support to be able, if we chose, to say no to something even if it was in the best interest of another division,” said Diane Henry, a senior vice president for marketing at Warner Brothers Pictures. “It was always driven by what is best for Harry Potter rather than some synergistic effort.”
Most of the synergy went one way last year, with AOL/TW’s outlets carrying tons of promotion for the movie, and not receiving a lot of merchandising goodies in return.
Meanwhile, CBS MarketWatch is looking to buy Edgar Online. MarketWatch is the beneficiary of CBS’s anti-synergy approach of taking big minority stakes in Internet companies and letting them do what they do best.
It’s too soon to say whether Disney and AOL/TW are prepared to say that they lied to stockholders and themselves about the synergy in the acquisitions. It’ll probably take a real change of management before that happens.