RealTime IT News

Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!

In a pseudo-counteroffer, Comcast wants to wrestle control of Excite@Home from AT&T. Its plans to turn the tables on AT&T's strategy to boost its voting stake in Excite@Home won't fly, but it's just another day in an ongoing made-for-TV movie.

This is like a bad episode of The Brady Bunch. Excite and @Home hopped into bed after much hand-wringing over a content pairing with the cable access provider. Some thought AOL, while others eyeballed Yahoo!. But everybody knows venture capitalist John Doerr's bad blood with Yahoo, and his firm already had a stake in Excite and @Home. Everybody's happy.

In bursts Ma Bell and the whole shebang goes to hell in a hand basket. The telecomm giant is a plumber. They like big pipes but couldn't care less about content. So AT&T scoops up TCI, and with it, a handsome stake in @Home. Kleiner Perkins goes on the offensive and pulls a power play by gifting half of @Home to Excite. It waters down AT&T's stake, while keeping Kleiner in the driver's seat.

The VC firm didn't trust AT&T. And it was right not to. Michael Armstrong decides to scoop up Excite@Home, but he's itching to shop off Excite to some other suitor. No sooner are the two on their honeymoon when AT&T starts two-timing Excite@Home with a not-so-discreet AOL content deal on the table. Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!

Whose side is AT&T on anyway? Their own side. In the meantime, Excite@Home's share price is reduced to rubble, as nothing more than a tracking stock, while investors are left holding the bag.

So along comes a suitor who loves the content play but cares little for the pipes. Wild rumors start swirling over a three-way swap-meet that has Yahoo rescuing Excite, and separating @Home in a joint-venture with AT&T. Did I mention John Doerr doesn't Yahoo!?

Now we've graduated to a steamy episode of Melrose Place. Excite@Home and Road Runner move like snails in rolling out cable access, while in the meantime, some smart blokes at Bell Labs make copper look like gold. Almost overnight, cable has a bevy of DSL vendors competing for mind share in every major market across the country.

AT&T by now is busy fighting with AOL over open-access to its pipes. After some entertaining saber rattling and beltway lobbying, AOL and Time Warner ran off to Vegas and eloped. AOL to AT&T, keep the pipes. That foul smell that follows Peanuts Gang's PigPen around is starting to rub off on Ma Bell's deals, past and present.

The AOL/Time Warner joint venture makes AT&T's lollygagging look pretty arrogant. While hindsight is 20/20, let's read the tea leaves. Excite@Home looks fairly valued given the shifting sands of the Internet landscape. A Comcast life preserver sounds amicable, but I just don't see a premium for the pipes and content player any time in the future, as all the arguments for a lucrative valuation have fallen by the wayside.

Excite@Home has been stuffed under AT&T's pillow, and goodness knows it deserves a better home. Comcast looks cozy; but for investors, it'll come up a day late and a dollar short. Did I mention Excite@Home's former skipper Tom Jermoluk jumped ship last week to come aboard as a general partner at Kleiner Perkins? Whoever said captains go down with the ship?

Any questions or comments, love letters or hate mail? As always, feel free to forward them to kblack@internet.com.