Ross Levinsohn: I wouldn’t have bought Tumblr
By Matt Vella, senior editor
FORTUNE — Former Yahoo interim CEO Ross Levinsohn would not have bought Tumblr if he were still running the Internet giant. Speaking at this year’s Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo., Levinsohn said he respects founder David Karp, but would not have pursued the $1.1 billion deal for the blogging site announced in May because it wouldn’t have fit in with his strategy.
Levinsohn, who was previously an executive at News Corp. (NWS), CBS (CBS), and HBO (TWX), had been in the running for the top spot at Yahoo (YHOO). Instead, ex-Googler (GOOG) Marissa Mayer got the job in July last year. (Also at the conference, Mayer was a judge for the Brainstorm Tech Startup Idol competition.)
“Tumblr is a platform,” Levinsohn said on a panel addressing the future of content. “The challenge now,” he continued, “is to sift through the millions of experiences that sit on Tumblr to really focus and shine the advertising opportunity spotlight on the premium content.” Levinsohn said advertisers were mostly interested in the most premium content online.
Earlier this year, Levinsohn was named CEO of Guggenheim Digital Media, a unit of investment firm Guggenheim Partners. Levinsohn’s group operates magazines Adweek, Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. At the time of his appointment, Guggenheim said it was making “significant capital” available to the unit “to acquire and invest in new media companies and properties that will meaningfully expand [the] current portfolio.”
What would Levinsohn have done instead? “I would have focused more on Hulu,” he said. Yahoo had been looking at making a bid for streaming TV site Hulu, which is owned by 21st Century Fox, the Walt Disney Company (DIS) and NBCUniversal (CMCSA). Hulu had been for sale until earlier this month when its owners decided not to sell, making a new $750 million investment in the venture instead. “I think it’s a great validation for what the Hulu team has built,” he said.
Levinsohn had a unique view into the inner workings of Hulu. He was an executive at News Corp during the period Hulu was first being contemplated. He also spoke to Rupert Murdoch in February. “It didn’t feel to me that he wanted to sell it,” he said. “It’s been on the few new media successes; he liked the idea of keeping it.”