Verizon Not Looking for Traditional Media Acquisition, CFO Says

Verizon Studio - H 2015
Associated Press

"There may be something that we can do that’s a different type product," Matt Ellis tells an investor conference about a possible Verizon streaming service. If there is, "we would move forward with it."

Verizon Communications CFO Matt Ellis at an investor conference on Wednesday in Boston reiterated that the telecom giant wasn't hunting for an acquisition of a big entertainment company, but wasn't questioned about the telecom giant's reported past interest in a possible bid for CBS Corp.

Asked at the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference in a session that was webcast about his CEO's past comments that he doesn't have any interest in buying traditional media and entertainment assets, Ellis said: "It's a fair statement that he doesn’t. It’s a fair statement that we don't."

Verizon chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam in January had said that "there is nothing going on right now with us considering a large media play." He added: "You have to look at whether being a big independent distributor is a reasonable alternative to owning content," concluding, "Being independent is a very good place to play for us right now."

McAdam back then also acknowledged that Walt Disney's $52.4 billion deal for large parts of 21st Century Fox could be seen as a sign that scale matters. "We look at this," he said, but added that "until all of this shakes out, you can’t really determine" where things will go.

McAdam had last year also said Verizon was comfortable without buying any big media and content companies. But the company has often been mentioned as a possible buyer, including in the Fox sales process. 

Is Verizon missing anything it may want to acquire? "We feel that we have the assets today to execute our strategy and grow the business," Ellis said Wednesday, but added that the company was always open to looking at any strategically attractive assets that may come to market.

CBS in a Monday lawsuit against its vice chair Shari Redstone and its Redstone family-owned controlling shareholder National Amusements said that Redstone had rejected an approach by an unnamed potential acquirer of CBS, calling that one of various reasons why her interests are not aligned with other CBS shareholders.

The undisclosed suitor was widely understood to have been Verizon, which hasn't commented on the topic so far. One source said the two parties had been in early-stage deal talks last year. 

Asked on Wednesday if Verizon was still planning to launch its own over-the-top live-streaming service after last year delaying its plans for such an offer, Ellis said: "We have looked at that quite a while. One of the things we have not been interested in is just doing a me too-type product. So, we continue to look at that."

But the exec signaled the company could decide against going that way. "There are still ways that there may be something that we can do that’s a different type product," Ellis said. "If there are, we would move forward with it. But until we get comfortable we really have something that’s a compelling offer to consumers, we are happy to work with other solutions for customers to get what they need."

Asked if the past acquisitions of AOL and Yahoo that have created Verizon's Oath unit would require the purchase of more content assets, Ellis said the company was focused on increasing engagement. "We'll continue to do things in the digital-content space," he said.