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A deal surge in media, which is actually commerce

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Upon the report of a major Facebook financing, registering third after Groupon and Twitter had also announced spectacular funding rounds in the space of one month, the question was asked: What about Zynga and LinkedIn? Where are they in this spectacle? Such a question implies that there might be an indiscriminate craze for the best names in media, and that the popular names absent from festivities may soon arrive upon the scene as well. This could certainly be the case, and perhaps even beyond Zynga and LinkedIn there are other spectacular rounds being planned as we speak, some of which may well provide the “bubble” chatter with all sorts of additional nourishment. There is, however, a different way to see recent events, so that the particular selection of three names – Facebook, Groupon, Twitter, (in size order) – no longer seems incomplete but rather very particular. And by the same token, the absence of Zynga and LinkedIn and others would come across as less of a lapse than a different grouping entirely – one that does not belong in the pattern at all.

Putting size order aside for the time being, and forgetting relative valuations and the appropriateness or inappropriateness thereof, the key to the question is one of definition. Because Facebook’s is the largest and most recent of the three deals, we may be inclined to see it as the defining event, the anchor transaction by which the other two are to be taken in. By that standard, the three deals are milestones in social media involving the most outstanding names in the field, and by that standard it is correct to wonder where the others are, (for example, Zynga and LinkedIn). But what if the defining event, the anchor transaction, is not Facebook at all but instead Groupon? Seen in this light, from the special angle of what sets Groupon apart, then the trio of situations is not anything like popular media at large, or particularly even social, but three unique platforms that facilitate retail and online commerce in specific ways, and that may find themselves at the start of a massive industry evolution. Seen in this light, Zynga and LinkedIn simply don’t belong, but Yelp or Foursquare or Gilt well might.

From such a perspective, the eye-popping surge of Facebook, Twitter and Groupon in the world of private investing, may have fewer public market parallels at, say, Google, Microsoft, Aol, or even Apple, than they might at Amazon and eBay. Out of the first-mentioned group, Apple (also surging) is closest to e-commerce (ref. iTunes and the app store), and Google is, for a variety of competitive reasons, most anxious to get in. (I note, by way of evidence, the effort made by Google to acquire Groupon, and I suggest, by extension, that Twitter may not be a terrible second choice.) This being neither here nor there, I would nevertheless put forth, and with confidence, that the notion of Apple, Google and Facebook dividing the world between them – a notion that among industry observers has for some time become a standard rule of thumb – is a flawed and antiquated notion. We should not rule out the commerce plays: Increasingly the distinction between commerce and media is being blurred. (I note, by way of evidence, that Groupon has begun to direct much attention to editorial quality and is providing organized training to its copywriters, as though it were a real content shop.) 

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.