On the puzzling acquisition of IDW by IDT

From Newsarama:

“IDT Internet Mobile Group (IMG), a division of IDT Corporation, has formed Zedge Studios to develop and license digital content for distribution through web and mobile platforms. Additionally, IMG has acquired a controlling interest in IDW Publishing (www.idwpublishing.com), a leading independent comics publisher pre-eminent in the horror, action, and sci-fi genres, boasting such high-profile titles as The Transformers, 30 Days of Night, CSI, Star Trek, 24, and Scarface.

Moshe Berger, formerly CEO of IDT Entertainment, which was sold to Liberty Media in 2006, is now working towards making IDT’s Internet Mobile Group an industry leader. “We have seen the explosion of digital content, especially user-generated content, over a variety of platforms,” said Mr. Berger, IMG CEO and head of Zedge Studios. “This is what the new generation of consumers craves. Our intention is for Zedge Studios to become the worldwide destination for content on the web and on mobile devices. IDW Publishing’s stellar reputation in the comics and graphic novel arenas and its emphasis on original intellectual properties in the action and horror genres are a perfect fit for Zedge Studios. Working closely with IDW’s brilliant management and creative team will bring us one step closer to achieving our global goal.””

There’s some interesting things going on here.

IDT is a holding company out of Newark, NJ. Their stock price has been in the toilet over the last few years, trading from a high in Jan 2004 of ~$23 to today’s close of 10.10. This lousy performance occured while stocks overall have done very well. In fact, the stock is down 24% in the last year alone.

(Image courtesy Yahoo!, and most of the research was done through their site.)

While their latest 10-Q filing with the SEC states that they’re a diverse company in the introduction (“We are a multinational holding company with operations that span several industries.”), the truth is that they’re primarily a telecom that focuses on phone cards. In the last quarter, over 85% of their revenues were generated through their telecom subsidiaries. And it’s not a profitable business- while revenues were $485.4 million, costs were $533 million. The company does have some other smaller businesses- an “ethnic grocery” division, the Net2Phone subsidiary, and some energy concerns, among others.

According to Yahoo! Financials, most of the business value is simply cash. Cash makes up more than $8 of the value of the stock, which means the rest of the business is not valued highly. Some of that cash came from the sale of the IDT entertainment division to Liberty Media. That division held quite a few businesses related to comics, including minority shares of Archie Comics Entertainment, POW Entertainment (Stan Lee’s side company), and Manga Entertainment.

IDT settled a class action lawsuit in January that saw them promise refunds of up to $20 million over problems with their phone card business. They are currently suing other phone card makers, asking them to raise their standards to avoid defrauding their customers. They are also suing Skype, a division of eBay, over patent claims. In 2004, the company was sued by a number of former employees, claiming that the company discriminated against non-Jewish employees over issues such as promotions and holidays.

So we have a company, IDT, that’s not doing well as a telecom, deciding to get into the comics business. IDW mostly published three lines of comics: its 30 Days of Night horror books, licensed books (CSI, Transformers, Star Trek, 24, and Spike, among others), and art books, mostly by Ashley Wood. They also publish Grimjack and Jon Sable reprints, and picked up Peter David’s Fallen Angel series when DC stopped publishing the book.

So a niche telecom company has bought the fifth largest comics publisher in the Direct Market. One explanation may be Clifford Meth, the current Executive VP of Strategies/Editorial at IDW and a former VP of IDT Entertainment. In the press release announcing Meth’s appointment with IDW, it was announced that “he will put his vast network of entertainment industry relationships to work in order to create new opportunities for the burgeoning publisher.” This, apparently, is the new opportunity.

Disclosure: I currently am a consultant for AT&T, which is also a telecom. However, my current assignments with the company have nothing to do with this situation in particular or IDT in general; in fact, I’ve never heard the company mentioned during my tenure at AT&T. All information about the company has been obtained through public findings or cited sources. I have bought quite a few books that IDW published, and enjoyed them all. I hope to be able to continue to do so.

4 thoughts on “On the puzzling acquisition of IDW by IDT”

  1. Good analysis. IDT shares are down to $7.93, so have dropped another 20% since the IDW acquisition announcement. They had gotten an over-the-top price from Liberty for their grab-bag of entertainment assets, and probably looking to redeploy capital in the sector and get another payday. They previously produced one feature film, an animated film called “Everyone’s Hero” that flopped, and a few direct-to-video horror flicks.

  2. Also read that IDT recently bought a company that collects charged off receivables; I guess IDW can use this expertise to hound their debtors.

  3. First of all, Fletcher Hanks? AWESOME name. That book is in my bookshelf at my desk. Just fantastic.

    Second, I’m surprised that IDT didn’t play up on the fact that the IDW company had a hit movie these last two weeks. 30 Days of Night didn’t do too badly, leading the box office one weekend (although I don’t think it outperformed industry estimates). Why didn’t this get more play? If you’re going to transform your company into a media company, then act like one.

    By the way, I pass the IDT building every day on my commute to NYC (and that commute is why I haven’t blogged more- that will change soon, I hope). Interesting building- a skyscraper right on the river in Newark, with a big American flag on the side, just like buildings had after 9/11. Rather interesting.

    I suspect that the receivable company is tied into the phone stuff. But I could be wrong.

    Keep up the good work, Fletcher!

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