VIRTUAL UNREALITY - So farewell then 2000. The year that dawned so brightly for the internet and then turned sour is over. Never can so many people have had their dreams smashed so quickly. Now, of course, some observers are forecasting a much brighter 2001. In truth, it couldn't get much worse, but I've learned to be wary of forecasts. It's not so much an inexact science as no science at all. All these fantastic projections about the worth of various online markets in 2002 or 2004 strike me as just that: fantastic. It was only 12 months ago that many in the industry were forecasting that online advertising spending in the UK in 2000 would hit pounds 225 million. The true result is likely to be closer to pounds 95 million.
That has not put the crystal-ball gazers off: if you believe recent projections, by 2004, spending on online advertising will outstrip that spent on television advertising; people will each be spending 3,756 hours online a year (that's 157 days or 22 weeks); and every online business will be making millions in profits. OK, I made the last one up. But it's likely to prove just as accurate.
CASH 'N' DASH - Reversing is always the trickiest part of the driving test, and so it is in business. Subject to final shareholder approval, my sports media company has completed a complicated refinancing deal involving us reversing into a listed cash shell. A cash shell company is one that has sold off its businesses, no longer trades and just has cash in the bank. Its value lies in the amount of cash it owns and its stock market listing: with many new media businesses finding a straight IPO an impossibility, these cash shells offer a route to market and to raising new funds. Not surprisingly, such shells have been in great demand; the transformation from old to new can be stark and exciting, and a pleasant surprise for long-term shareholders who have seen their share price dwindle. In our case, it means that Ferrum Holdings, a former engineering firm based in the West Midlands, will become a sparkly 21st-century London-based sports media business called Digital Sport, with money to develop its businesses and go on the acquisition trail.
ANOTHER LEAGUE - There were not many amusing moments going through the punishing process of due diligence with the legions of accountants, lawyers and stockbrokers needed to get the reverse deal done. But there was a surreal one as we burned the midnight oil during the verification process.
Could we confirm and verify, one lawyer asked in all seriousness, that football was a popular game played around the world?