name off its press release.
You can imagine the pulmonary infarctions in the Disney boardroom Monday as
Kevin Mayer announced he is turning in his mouse ears for X-rated bunny ears, a cotton tail and a pat on the butt from
CEO Christie Hefner.
Former Executive Vice President and Go.com General Manager Mayer is grabbing some IPO flesh -- becoming Playboy.com's CEO just before the online nudie play gives up its shares to the unwashed masses. As a former head of the
online efforts, Mayer will be charged with keeping the bunny's marketing curves taut in the Internet arena as a public company.
Mickey would not approve.
Here's what, for an initial 43% stake in
and then an outright acquisition of the renamed Go.com in 1999, Disney has gotten for its trouble:
- One trademark tussle with
GoTo.com (GOTO) .
More connections to the fleshy world of scandalous sex than one family-style entertainment dictatorship can stomach.
In the former, the litigation put Go.com's once-cheery stoplight logo in the wood chipper. Wave bye-bye to all that branding, which was splintered by a judge's injunction. In the past month, Disney welcomed a new logo featuring a dotted arrow, perhaps a Braille rendering of Go.com's sightless pursuit of Internet direction.
As for the latter, investors surely winced when Go.com executive Patrick Naughton's face lit up TV newscasts across the country after he was convicted with violating the
Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996
at the end of 1999. (Naughton is currently awaiting a new trial for possession of child porn; his initial conviction was put aside after the Act was deemed unconstitutional.) And now management appears to be defecting to the Playboy Mansion. Think of the headlines just begging to be written: "Disney Net Exec Loses Interest in Ones and Zeroes, Favors
Anna Nicole Smith's
computer tote bag -- hello satin robe and pipe.
What's a moral, upstanding media conglomerate to do?
Don't panic. Go.com retains CEO Steve Wadsworth and Chairman Steven M. Bornstein as its guiding forces. It's already jump-starting itself after a stalled few months of confusion (see Joe Bousquin's
low down). It ditched the rough-and-tumble portal market for a more bouncy leisure-and-lifestyle focus. The narrowed content target will be better synchronized with Disney's content strengths -- ABC, ESPN, that seminude mermaid, you know the drill.
And in case you're thinking Disney is wishing it could undo its whole Infoseek escapade, fear not! Disney reiterated its Internet hopes Tuesday at the company's annual shareholders' meeting in Chicago. It will charge ahead, crying out the Disney name from every alp and burg in Go.com territory. Wait, a year ago wasn't it the other way around?
Forget that! Disney is a grade-A media empire. Go.com's the new medium by which it can broadcast the gospel according to Mickey Mouse to the world's faithful. That was the moneymaking prospect that evoked applause when Disney first laid its eyes on Infoseek. Last year's push to make Go.com a household name via Disney's reach was a bust (for more on that strategy, see a George Mannes
period piece) .
For its trouble, Disney will shoulder the financial burden for Go.com for several more quarters, to Disney's detriment. Go.com rang up $202 million in net losses for the fiscal first quarter ended Dec. 31. Strap those losses to the backs of Go.com and Disney shareholders -- with Disney hunched over under the heavier load. Yes, CFO Tom Staggs emphasized anew Tuesday that Disney would allow its earnings to be dragged down as it waits for Go.com to pay off.
If only Mickey had known his good Internet intentions would turn so bad.
Tish Williams' column takes at look at the people who make Silicon Valley tick. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, she doesn't own or short individual stocks, although she does own stock options in TheStreet.com. She also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. She waits breathlessly for your feedback at