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The Return of Terry Semel? Windsor Media

TS returnTerry Semel remains Yahoo’s chairman but since ceding (or relinquishing) executive control to Jerry Yang in June, he’s been largely out of the public eye and off the radar.  In 2008, that may change, albeit in a lower profile way that is unrelated to Yahoo.

Paid Content is reporting Terry’s set to relaunch a “revamped version” of Windsor Media, an investment firm he started in 1999 but abandoned to take on the leadership position at Yahoo in 2001.  So far nobody involved directly has issued any statements but the reports say Drew Buckley, former GM of Yahoo Originals, Jeff Karish, former head of media strategy at Yahoo, and Jimmy Yaffe, managing partner of Endeavor Marketing Solutions are all involved.

Speculation is that Windsor, in its new form, may be similar to former Disney chief, Michael Eisner’s Tornante organization which is an investment vehicle focused on high growth (often technology centric) entertainment and media businesses.  Unlike Tornante, however, Windsor is looking like it could involve notable outside capital, and have more elements of a private equity or venture capital firm. 

Semel’s background is diverse, but he’s characterized himself as a marketer first and foremost.  During the conference call following his appointment to Yahoo, in fact, he said explicitly, “If one were to say to me ‘What is your background?’ My background is marketing.  I’ve been brand building throughout the world for 25 years.”

Given his significant experience with consumer-facing companies and brand building, it’s hard to conceive Windsor will purely be a behind the scenes investor or consultancy.  It’s possible they may be building elements of a content production/studio business.  At this point, there’s so little information: frankly, anything is possible.

The news comes at a time when Hollywood business elite are looking to increase their footprint in emerging media opportunities. In the beginning of December, Talent Agency Creative Artists revealed they were working in partnership with experienced Silicon Valley VC advisors to develop their own Venture Capital Fund.  Rival ICM also was reportedly looking to dive into the investment business.

(Venture Capital isn’t new to Hollywood.  Disney has long had an affiliated venture fund called Steamboat Ventures and others, from studios to angel investors,  have participated in seed funding and mezzanine rounds for years, but the exposure and pace is clearly changing.  That’s evidence, apparently, of an increased focus on distribution technologies and the ways the convergence of media, entertainment and technology may impact their traditional businesses).

Wherever Windsor’s efforts are directed, the company could be poised to quickly become a player if that is in their ambitions.  Hollywood and the entertainment industry remain a relationship driven world.  Semel, who’s pre-Yahoo resume’ includes executive roles at Disney and CBS along with a highlight role as Chairman and Co-CEO of Warner Brother’s and Warner Music Group, is particularly rich in that department. 

If old friend, Bob Daly, his co-CEO from Warner ends up involved too, things could get particularly interesting.  Daly was the Chairman and CEO of the LA Dodger’s between ’99 and 2004.   Today he’s an adviser to Viacom and other media companies.  While the two were together with Semel running Warner Brother’s the studio had 16 consecutive years of record earnings and released more than 400 movies.  The Studio was so successful during their tenure, in fact, that the two were honored with the invitation to leave their hand and footprints on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  They’re only the second studio executives to ever receive that kind of recognition.

The two together again would indeed make me for interesting times. 

More news on Windsor will follow, if or when, the principles start talking about their plans.


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