CBS-CNET: Catching Up With The New Tag Team Of Smith & Ashe

Spent a few minutes talking earlier today with Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive (NYSE: CBS), and Neil Ashe, CEO of CNET (NSDQ: CNET), about this morning’s news. Given that the $1.8 billion deal is far from closing, the two hewed close to the talking points of the day and skirted around a number of subjects. The plans for now: the CNET team would stay intact and in San Francisco with Ashe reporting to Smith. As for integration specifics, no details now. Smith: “We’ll work on the integration later. … The shared vision is that this is one combined organization focused on building great brands.

Smith and Ashe each suggested that CNET should be able to deliver more without the overhang of Jana. Ashe: “We get to focus on our day jobs. … One of the things I’m most excited about is we collectively have a ticket to ride now.” They have scale and a platform but it’s been hard to operate in a public environment. “We’ve demonstrated we can build properties like no one else can.” That’s what he wants to focus on now. More after the break…

When I asked Smith, who came from the investment community, why he thought CNET was being dissed by Jana and others, he said I might as well ask why a batch of other companies could fit in the dissed category — including his own. “From my perspective — my sense is they were dealing with a huge distraction for quite a while.” (Once folded into CBS, Ashe will no longer have to deal with the usual trappings of leading a public company or with hostile shareholders. Of course, the CNET team also will be moving deep inside a publicly held company, which has its own pressures and politics.) Smith stressed that CNET is profitable and in a position to contribute to CBS.

On Jana: Asked if he’d spoken with Jana, Ashe replied with CEO-speak: “We talk to all our shareholders regularly.” (A Jana spokesman told me “we’re reviewing” the deal.) The general pitch: great premium deal for all shareholders.

On CBS: Smith says corporate backing for the deal from CBS “shows us how serious they are.”

On sports and mobile: Sports is a key here. Ashe: “We have coveted having sports for a long time as a vertical.” They see a fit between CNET’s games-entertainment-lifestyle areas and a draw for young males. Just how integrated this will all be remains to seen. On the mobile side, CNET’s efforts have been decentralized while CBS is centralized within CBS Interactive. They plan to work together on growing mobile across the board.