Ross Levinsohn interview at the Consumer Technology Ventures Conference

Ross_LevinsohnI spent a portion of the day at the Consumer Technology Ventures Conference today, catching the interview of Ross Levinsohn, the President of Fox Interactive Media (“FIM”) by Lee Gomes, from the Wall Street Journal.

NewsCorp’s re-entry in the Internet market was kicked off by Rupert Murdoch after Christmas 2004, and a summit of 85 top executives in February 2005. During this meeting, Murdoch’s team brainstormed about the threats and opportunities of taking a prominent position. Last May was when Ross presented a plan of actions – starting with the acquisition of MySpace and also involved investing in their FMI’s properties.

NewsCorp is focusing on companies built as a mix of content and communities. Ross mentions that Murdoch is "fearless" and ready to make bold moves, especially to enter new spaces in which they are not present. He also explains that he did not initially grasp the power of communities like MySpace, but he eventually came around and ended up acquiring both. Talking about scale, MySpace added 3M unique users in October, and served 11B pages – more than eBay. The challenge for NewsCorp is to monetize these page views and eyeballs.

Lee Gownes asks whether MySpace is “just” the flavor of the month, and risks to see its users flocking to the next new thing (sort of the Friendster effect). Ross answers that MySpace’s position was built on music distribution being the main attraction, and is further leveraging this through the launch of their own music label. The sheer size and density of personal networks existing on the site creates a strong differentiation and barrier to exit. Commenting on the Skype acquisition, Ross explains that NewsCorp did look at the opportunity but could not make the maths work, even if he found the company to be a fascinating property.

NewsCorp is now looking at over 100 opportunities a month, and would look at almost any modern Web applications or services – besides porn and gambling (at least, for the US market). Ross tends to be more excited by small(er) innovative companies than established ones – because of their ability to innovate. Asked about technologies that are overhyped, Ross mentioned mobile technology, voip,… where there are opportunities for one or two players – but not 10 or 20.

On their own competition: Ross mentions  that they are overlapping with Microsoft, Apple and other large companies – but at the same time will align and collaborate with some of them on key elements of their business (like any large business conglomerate). He cites Google as getting into their turf, and Yahoo becoming a strong media company.

Q: Back to Rupert Murdoch, and how involved he is in technology and/or tools?
Not much is the honest answer, though he reportedly has a lot of instinct on that market/business.

Q: Lesssons learnt in expanding in the Internet world ?
Be nimble and fast on execution. With key decision makers.

Q: Favorite blogs ? is a blog he reads every day, because they cover the content space better than others (way to go Rafat!), and he has 100 blogs in his aggregator at home.

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