• Yahoo Acquires Maven, First Hilmi Ozguc Interview

    The rumor mill of the past 2 weeks proved correct, as Yahoo announced this morning that it has acquired Maven Networks for $160M. By my count this is the biggest pure-play broadband video deal to date, and is an excellent validation of broadband video's growing importance in the media and technology landscape.

    Hilmi Ozguc, Maven's CEO and co-founder, provided me with an exclusive briefing about the deal, his first comments following the announcement this morning. (As a quick disclaimer, I did some business development and product strategy consulting work for Maven and Hilmi in the company's early days. I didn't have any current financial relationship with Maven.)

    As Hilmi says below, and as I've said before (most recently in "My Rant About Super Bowl Ads"), broadband video is increasingly becoming the terrain of the big guys - the biggest brands, publishers, technology providers, networks, etc. As the broadband medium continues to mature, its ability to attract ad dollars from incumbent media, particularly TV, is going to strengthen. This process will be accelerated by Yahoo as it seeks to drive Maven's capabilities into its customer and partner base.

    Following is a summary of my briefing with Hilmi:

    Why did you sell the company?

    Broadband video is increasingly going to be a game fought between titans because billions of dollars are at stake and the question is how do you get to the top 50 or 100 global media brands and advertisers? We've focused on building tools and technologies that these media companies need. The time to sell was excellent as was the return for our investors.

    Can you describe the sale process?

    We had several high profile bidders, although I can't identify them. It was gratifying to see multiple companies validate the product initiatives we put in motion 2 to 2 1/2 years ago. Yahoo has the resources to buy anyone. They took a deliberate approach and looked far and wide and concluded that Maven was the right company to buy. The whole process took several months from start to finish. The deal was for $160M, mostly in cash and it officially closed yesterday.

    What group will Maven report into?

    Maven will be integrated very quickly and deeply into Yahoo because video is so key to what Yahoo is doing in terms of advertising. This will not end up being a little business unit off to the side somewhere. Our engineering team will be part of Yahoo's engineering team. All Maven executives including me will be staying and have similar responsibilities to what we've been doing. A lot of work has already gone into the integration.

    Who do you report into?

    I'm not sure I'm at liberty to discuss that, as it would be a little too revealing of Yahoo's strategy, but I think it's in the right place to be within the company.

    What does Yahoo bring to Maven?

    Enormous reach, 500M visitors around the world per month. An incredible roster of advertisers and publishers who are already in their ecosystem. Interesting and complimentary engineering capabilities. A sheer ability to scale this massively. This deal is all about getting our stuff into the hands of the biggest media, publishing and advertising companies and having it exposed to a massive audience. We started as a media technology company, and evolved to mostly an advertising business. So combining with the leader in display advertising was very logical. Being plugged deeply into a company that sells close to $2B of advertising every 90 days is a huge opportunity for us. It's a massive advertising machine.

    Does Yahoo-Maven portend more consolidation?

    Absolutely. I just don't see how as a small startup you can have a significant enough piece of the pie when all the giants have now woken up and have video as front and center. Other big players are going to come in more aggressively.

    What are the implications of Microsoft's takeover bid of Yahoo on Maven?

    We need to stay focused at Maven, and as long as we do that I'm not concerned about any distractions. And I shouldn't really talk about the Microsoft deal either!

    What are the 2-3 lessons you've learned about the broadband video market in 5 1/2 years since starting Maven?

    When we started virtually nobody really believed in video being delivered on the Internet. We had a singular vision that said, look, once broadband is in enough homes, video is going to take off. So that was our first mission: delivery of bits, playback, HD-quality, etc. As the market evolved, the Akamais of the world solved a lot of the delivery problems, so we shifted our focus to publishing and content syndication, advertising and monetization. Basically, how does a media company generate revenue from broadband? So we evolved along with the market. We tried to stay focused on advertising, professional video and largest media companies.

    This is your second successful startup - what lessons do you have for entrepreneurs?

    1. Focus is the most important thing and ignoring the naysayers. It's natural to want to hedge, but you have to be bold enough to make decisions. Markets do take time to develop. We were early no question, but the market caught up and we were at right place at right time when it did. 2. Agility is also important and being analytical about what the market is saying. So the ability to shoot a direction and switch. And do it fearlessly. Trial and error is key. 3. Bet on the right people. The wrong people can steer you down the wrong path. So you essentially have to be the world's most capable talent scout, to build a team of people at all levels of the organization. A great team will figure it out.

    Where's the broadband video market going from here?

    Startups got this space going and created a lot of the core technology and innovation, but this is no longer a game of startups. Big media companies want to deal with big technology companies and networks. Big advertisers want to work with biggest publishers. To achieve this scale independently would be very difficult.

    What are the key challenges for broadband video market?

    I don't want to say the "R" word that everyone's talking about, but if it comes, I hope it's a mild one. As we know, advertisers cut back quickly in difficult economies. Though I don't think this will happen in broadband because it is so promising and it's still pretty small. Another challenge is getting ad agencies and advertisers to think of broadband as being interactive and capable of more than TV ads. You've talked about that a lot at VideoNuze. And finally the need to scale the technology and infrastructure so it's rock-solid and dependable. That's what Yahoo and Maven will focus tightly on. And I think we have all the tools between us to grab the undisputed leadership position in this, if we move fast enough.

    So are you going to do startup #3?

    My focus for now is on integration and marshalling all these terrific resources. Yahoo has a great team and has been chomping at the bit to have a competitive video offering to sit alongside their display offerings. They have a killer ad sales force, along with great relationships with the biggest publishers. They have mastered how to play on the media company side, and in being a partner to other media companies. We can't wait to get going.

    Congrats again.