PaidContent, mediabistro and Math

Mediabistro blog FishbowlNY’s swipe at the valuation of Rafat Ali’s ContentNext, sold for a reported $30 million (including an earn-out over time based on performance) to the Guardian Media Group, smells at least a little bit of tit-for-tat over something Rafat wrote after mediabistro’s sale to Jupiter Media. Fishbowl says Content Next revenues in 2007 were $3 million, which it calls a “10+” valuation (I think they mean 10x), and ignores a few factors. Just as people during the mediabistro sale for $20 million plus a $3 million earn-out over two years quoted its revenues of a year earlier and ignored the 30-40 percent yearly growth as well as the inherent value of some of mediabistro’s assets (such as its list of more than 700,000 registered users, more than 10,000 of whom were paying members).

But even if CN’s valuation is lower than FishbowlNY is saying (they should, I think, subtract the earn-out to get a base value for the deal, which may be much lower than the reported $30 million) there are many reasons for it be high. One, as HighBeam and CEO Patrick Spain noted to me on the phone yesterday, is the value of the core ContentNext audience -- media executives, decision makers with budgetary control. It also has a budding and growing group of conferences for which attendees pay hundreds of dollars admission to see even higher-profile execs speak (Murdoch, Cavuto...), a strong list of email recipients, high-profile business and financial advertisers it has cultivated and maintained for years, successful media properties in the U.S., U.K. and India (India!), a growing research component, and ContentNext Dex, a listing of media-tech stocks it has created and which serves as a technological bit of value. The participation of high-profile investor Alan Patricof, former GM Nathan Richardson as CEO, and, of course, editorial co-chief Staci Kramer, as well as a cadre of strong, international journalists who’ve stuck with the company for years, and a growing and successful sales team all adds up to value as well. The Guardian group, I’d say, bought the management as much as the company’s book assets, and I’d wager that the earn-out is larger than mb’s. Add, too, the U.K.-based Guardian group’s professed desire to go more international, the synergies with its other properties, the fact that it is a trust able to think and act more long-term than a typical public company, and there’s a lot of value to be wrung from its purchase of ContentNext beyond a typical times-revenue or even more cumbersome financial calculations, such as WACC. (I doubt there’s much if any debt on the CN’s books, and also doubt that capital structure played much of a role in the decision to buy it.)

I love mediabistro, where I’m proud to have serves as editorial director before the sale, and ContentNext, where I’ve helped in a couple different ways, and for the record my analysis here of both properties is from publicly available reports and discloses no private details. Mediabistro’s audience of media professionals is and was, like CN’s, worth a lot more than an average consumer audience. Rafat duly noted in his interview with Kara Swisher after his company’s sale that it does cost quite a penny to produce their brand of journalism: “We’re a news media business on the Internet, but we’re not a consumer Internet company. We will never be.”

While it’s impressive that he got $30 million for the company so soon after Patricof invested, and in the midst of looking for a second round of funding, one eyebrow raiser from the Swisher interview is the speed with which the deal took place: “It all came to be in three weeks,” Rafat says, something he repeats on, which is, full disclosure, a partner in Naked Media.

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