"...'Dot Con' [is] about how insiders amassed fortunes during the heady days of initial public offerings, or IPOs. ...
This is a complicated story, and well outside the usual comfort zone of television journalism.
Frontline stumbles on a few cracks. It doesn't adequately explain a central allegation, that brokers at investment banks took kickbacks, in the form of inflated commissions, to setter big mutual funds and other favored clients toward ground-floor stock allocations in IPOs. And it's fuzzy on a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the investment banks.
But for a TV program to take a deep breath and plunge into such a complex topic, well ... there are times when you say a silent thanks for Frontline.
There's a side story here, too, about television itself. It's about the propriety of stock market shows, which are concentrated on PBS and on cable, having as guests analysts from investment banks. Frontline shows several of these analysts touting stocks in which their banks had a financial interest -- without anyone disclosing the unholy conflict to viewers.
Using TV to lure public investors to a stock, says [market analyst Lise] Buyer, made star analysts 'cheerleaders, not analysts.' ...
Watch Frontline, and you might even start to think of one popular show as 'Wall Street Weak.'"
"With the cesspool that is the Enron mess continuing to dominate the headlines, this fascinating, chilling, infuriating cautionary tale could not possibly be more timely.
"Frontline: Dot Con" tackles the Internet boom and bust as only "Frontline" can, spelling out those giddy days of mass greed and stock market flameouts that came to define the business world of the mid-to-late 1990s. It was a time of easy money and false profits, of enormous wealth for the few and ultimately grand disillusionment for the many -- just as with Enron. This hour peers at the phenomenon with painstaking candor.
"Dot Con" takes the story of the Internet explosion and implosion chronologically, beginning in 1995 when an unproven, unprofitable browser service called Netscape took itself public. Its stock, offered at $28 a share, shot up to $74 within a few hours. It was as if oil had suddenly been discovered beneath the sidewalk of Wall Street. Every untested Internet start-up skipped past the dues-paying phase and found instant riches with everything from MotherNature.com to Mortgage.com. Seemingly everyone was making bundles on stocks built on a creaky foundation of dream and illusion.
When the Web bubble began to burst as the century was turning, it wasn't pretty. But as "Dot Con" makes clear, it was pretty ugly business all along, a process rife with market manipulation and steeped in conflicts of interest. It trickled down even to TV business analysts who were under enormous pressure to be Internet stock cheerleaders or risk irrelevance. The obvious moral here is that heady days oft leave a price to pay in their wake -- and that which goes up must come down."
"... Wondering where your money went? Check out PBS' Frontline ... when its documentary 'Dot Con' delves into the hard sell and harder fall caused by many of the initial public offerings (IPO) by Internet companies. It is a scandalous catalogue of sins, apparently mostly committed by Wall Street and the media that cashed in on the craze. A dot-comedy of errors, if you will, except that so many investors aren't laughing. They're suing. Producer Martin Smith details how, in the last decade, nearly 5,000 new companies debuted on U.S. stock exchanges, many of them mere start-ups founded on a wish and prayer that the Internet would change the face of business. Never mind that most of these companies weren't making money, let alone profits. The fact that they were riding the tech wave was enough for their IPOs to generate a tsunami of hype and cash. ...
Right now, that American Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating charges that the U.S.'s most prestigious banks divvied up the hottest stocks in return for illegal kickbacks. Did they manipulate IPO stock prices to keep that bubble blowing? Did they exploit the public trust?
Interestingly, Credit Suisse First Boston, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley all refused to give Frontline interviews.
'Dot Con' builds a damning case -- and does it at a clip that will leave you breathless. This is one bit of business everybody should mind. ..."
"... 'Dot Con' is a good, dismaying account of a long investigation into possible fraud during the dot-com boom. It starts by telling us that one of the lesser-known effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was a delay in an investigation by government regulators and private lawyers into the activities of investment bankers and brokerage houses.
Essentially, it's about stocks being promoted by people who never admitted they had a vested interest in promoting those stocks. We get a rough history of the Internet boom -- footage of employees watching as their companies went public and they became millionaires, on par.
The insanity is made plain for us -- companies with little revenue and no prospect of profit being touted as juggernauts of industry. While the blame is put on big corporate players -- Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch -- a finger is also pointed at the media. It is suggested here, with some justification, that TV coverage of business was hopelessly inadequate or simply corrupt."
"'Dot Con' is a Frontline documentary that essentially paraphrases Jay Leno's famous question: 'What the hell were we thinking?'
It explores the '90s scandal in tech stocks, when investors threw heaps of money at companies that didn't seem to do anything, certainly not in the way of making any money. The Wall Street Journal's Kara Swisher notes investors usually put money into 'fully baked companies, and these weren't even in the oven for 10 minutes.' She equates many of the initial public offerings as 'mugging the public.' ...
You needn't know a thing about Wall Street -- except, perhaps an investor's assessment that greed 'is the definition of venture capital' -- to enjoy this jaw-dropping exploration of avarice and idiocy. It also makes you want a front seat when Frontline takes on the Enron fiasco."
home · introduction · ipo game · crying foul · beyond the bubble · historical perspectives
discussion · interviews · readings & links · producer's chat
FRONTLINE · wgbh · pbs online
some photographs copyright ©1998 sam bailey
web site copyright 1995-2013 WGBH educational foundation