It is one of the wonders of America, that business celebrities like junk-bond salesman Michael Milken can be disgraced and then redeemed, often within the span of a decade. Tarnished former media mogul and social climber, Bob Pittman, has secured the first big payday of his new career as an internet investor: his Daily Candy, the email newsletter for women who buy handbags, has sold to cable giant Comcast for $125m, according to Silicon Alley Insider. That's more than had been rumored, and way more than Pittman in 2003 paid for his stake: $3.5m.
Bob Pittman's claims to have founded MTV were overstated, but he was closely associated with the cable music channel's gigantic success in the 1980s. It was said of his wife Sandy, who later attempted to conquer Everest, that she gave a new meaning to the term "social climber." And Pittman himself was equally ambitious on the Manhattan circuit, though he scaled the social and business heights with a good deal of charm and grace.
The one-eyed mogul, now 54 years old, came tumbling down after he took over management of revenue-inflating AOL during the bubble. The online access service cashed in on the funds being invested in late 1990s dotcoms, much of which was spent on advertising partnerships which gave the startup brands a place on AOL pages.
The Dulles-based online service was never going to survive unscathed a downturn and the erosion of the dial-up market, and Pittman's reputation would have suffered anyway. But the infamous 2000 merger between AOL and media giant Time Warner ensured he would not merely be despised by investors who bought into AOL at its revenue-inflated peak; he personified to Time Warner veterans the arrogance and empty rhetoric of the AOL upstarts. Pittman managed to sell $94m in stock in the aftermath of the merger, but the dilution of Time Warner shareholders ensured the hatred of a large part of Manhattan's media establishment.
Pittman's contribution to Daily Candy has been more constructive. His salesmanship transformed Dany Levy's cute little newsletter into a marketing machine for fashion and retail brands. Pittman's reputation as a canny internet investor is made by this transaction, by some measure the best return of his fund. To be sure, the web may eclipse email as the preferred online medium for advertisers, and Comcast may have bought a property that's past its peak. But the cable company's bosses are in Philadelphia, a city that Pittman can easily avoid. In terms of Manhattan media, the former wonderboy is back.