His world-view was every bit as quaint as it was unsettling. One minute Bertelsmann is Europe's main player in the high stakes, hi-tech global media game - and the next it's emphasising that it's basically still the same old family owned publisher of bibles based in the sleepy Rhur town of Gutersloh since 1835.
But do not adjust your set - Bertelsmann hasn't been the only media giant with vision problems. A month before Herr Middelhoff shuffled off, Jean-Marie Messier was ousted from the top job at Vivendi Universal and at the start of August, Adam Singer, the chief executive of Telewest, resigned.
Ostensibly, the common factor here is spending lots of money and getting into huge amounts of debt in attempting to build vainglorious empires that now fail to add up to the sum of their parts.
But it goes without saying that new media is an important battleground in all of this. The events of this summer arguably have profound implications for the digital arena and, indeed, for the notion of convergence. Singer's departure seems telling because he was a man who felt comfortable with the big picture and saw the future in terms of marrying digital distribution with desirable content. The man who has replaced him was previously the company's finance director and there is the possibility that he will view Telewest as a telecoms utility outfit and see his job as optimising margins.
Events at Telewest are nothing compared with the deckchair rearranging at the world's biggest media conglomerate, AOL Time Warner. Two years ago, when AOL first offered to buy Time Warner, it did so on the basis of a hugely inflated dotcom-era share price - and executives at Time Warner seemed grateful that one of the new masters of the universe had taken pity on then. Now there's no doubt whatsoever about which bit is the dog and which is the tail. To cap it all, it emerges that AOL's accounting practices are under investigation. Last week it appointed a new chairman and chief executive, Jonathan Miller, in an attempt to restore confidence.
We shall see. But is the re-establishment of the old guard and old values potentially worrying? Or will the prospect of going back to the future actually reassure many advertisers? Steve King, the chief executive of Zenith Optimedia Group Europe, argues that the "new economy is dead quote is primarily about business models rather than technological possibilities.
The big names that bit the dust this summer did so because, in the context of a bleak economic and financial outlook, their ambitious expansion strategies were exposed as outrageous gambles.
King says: "The goal has been to generate cross-platform expertise and develop a relationship with consumers across several media. But I'm not sure how successful some of these companies have been at integrating these various strands. The evidence points to the fact that people still buy media on the basis of individual brands - they do not regard a big media company as the only supermarket they can shop in. So, with the possible exception of Murdoch, who has continued to deliver things to customers they wouldn't be able to get elsewhere, there's been a difficulty in delivering the promise."
Rob Norman, the chief executive of Outrider, agrees entirely. What we could be seeing now is stage two of a shakeout that began with the bursting of the dotcom bubble. Back then, we saw e-commerce companies, content and business models falling by the wayside. Thus the non-academic parts of the web were dominated by online publishers. Now we may be seeing the start of a grand cull of content.
"We're seeing the need to evaluate every single piece of online content against whether it contributes either directly or indirectly to revenues, Norman says. "Consumers have had a free ride for too long and the truth is that a lot of people don't give a monkey's about much of the stuff available online - 99 per cent of traffic goes to less than 1 per cent of what's available. So there could be a huge amount of stuff disappearing.
From an advertiser point of view that's okay because they tend to use less than a tenth of 1 per cent of all available space on the totality of the web. But the fear is that the old becomes so much in charge of the new that the ability to evaluate innovative business models will disappear along with the content."
According to King, however, convergence remains firmly on the agenda over the long term. He says: "A lot of media companies are relieved that convergence is apparently not moving forward. Convergence is about building broader and more complex relationships with your customers and for a traditional newspaper company, say, that might appear a tough challenge. But in the US, while there's undoubtedly a move toward more conservative business models, convergence is not dead by any means. From an advertising point of view, convergence gives more accountability and it is a big issue with advertisers and, for instance, on media pitches. The people who can do it in the new climate will prosper. The traditional companies who think it will go away are mistaken."
I-RECALL: DOTCOM WEEKLY AWARENESS SURVEY
Rnk Site Agency/Media Adspend Awareness
1 BT AMV BBDO/Zenith Media £31,980,000 83
2 Teletext DLKW/
Manning Gottlieb OMD £439,000 61
3 Siemens J. Walter Thompson/
Optimedia £1,184,000 50
4 Lastminute.com In-house n/s 49
5= Dell Cdp-travissully/Carat £2,336,000 42
Finance Union/BLM Media £586,000 42
7= Amazon Wieden & Kennedy/
OMD UK £430,000 38
7= Jamjar MWO/MediaCom £983,000 38
9 Lycos Leagas Delaney/BBJ £14,000 36
10 Jungle McCann-Erickson/
Info Associated £8,000 22
11 Ebookers Conrad Advertising £130,000 15
12 Expedia Euro RSCG/
Media Planning Group £566,000 14
13 Eclipse Bates UK/Walker Media £188,000 12
14 Bluesquare In-house/MindShare £71,000 8
15 Opodo Leagas Delaney/Carat £608,000 6
Source: Taylor Nelson Sofres PhoneBus, tel: 0800 0183618. Advertising
spend figures by AC Nielsen MMS: 01763 248828.
The survey was conducted over the weekend of 10-11 August based on a
representative sample of around 1,000 adults.
The companies included in the PhoneBus are a combination of those that
have achieved high awareness scores for their offline advertising in
previous weeks and those launching new, high-profile offline ad
WEB WATCH: FINANCIAL SITES
Rank Site Address Latest monthly page
1 FT.com ft.com *55.6
2 Wall Street Journal wsj.com 40.5
3 Adv. Financial Network advfn.com 36.5
4 Ample ample.com 21.0
5 Motley Fool fool.co.uk 18.0
6 Hemscott.net hemscott.net 13.8
7 The Economist economist.com 12.9
8 MX MoneyeXtra moneyextra.com 8.5
9 Sharepages.com sharepages.com 5.2
10 E*Trade etrade.co.uk 5.0
These are unaudited figures taken from publishers unless stated. The
data used in this table is supplied by BRAD: www.intellagencia.com. Tel:
(020) 7505 8458.
For a free listing in the New Media section of BRAD, call (020) 7505
*Figures from ABC Electronic.
There isn't much change in this month's table compared with June. There is some movement as far as page impressions are concerned but the positioning of sites remains largely unaltered. Financial Times holds on to top spot, followed by The Wall Street Journal. Advanced Financial Network has seen a small increase in hits, while Ample remains fourth despite dropping 5.5 million hits. Impressions for the Motley Fool have increased to 18 million. E*Trade is a new entry at ten with five million hits.