MTV Networks executives wanted to buy YouTube, court documents show

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There is much to behold in the 300-plus pages released Thursday morning in the $1-billion copyright infringement lawsuit that Viacom has lobbed against YouTube and its parent company, Google.

Among the more juicy tidbits is a set of internal Viacom documents from July 2006 showing that the New York media conglomerate had explored buying YouTube for as little as $1 million. The talks foundered, and YouTube was subsequently acquired by Google in October 2006 for $1.8 billion.


In one e-mail dated July 9, 2006, Adam Cahan, who at the time was MTV’s executive vice president of strategy and business development, wrote ‘we all believe this is a transformative acquisition that we should pursue,’ citing YouTube’s rising traffic and its value in ‘moving beyond social sharing of video into a utility for video search more broadly.’

The next day, however, things seemed to turn sour. In an e-mail exchange between MTV Networks President Van Toffler and MTV President Judy McGrath, Toffler asked McGrath, ‘We buying YouTube?’

McGrath replied, ‘Probably not buying YouTube, if I had to wager.’ When Toffler asked why, she seemed to express frustration with Viacom’s executive ranks and inability to strike quickly. ‘Because it’s our ... company,’ she wrote. She then added that she was having dinner that night with Viacom Chief Executive Sumner Redstone and suggested that he should ‘stop running the company for wall street.’

Toffler wrote back, ‘I do think some of it cuts to the bone. What happened to our what the ... ways. It takes 3 months and 58 meetings to get a 1 million dollar acquisition done at our company. We’re fast becoming those we scorned.’

-- Alex Pham

MTV Networks President Judy McGrath. Credit: Viacom.