Anything You Can Do, I Can Do With a Bigger Bag of Money
For those who think Microsoft did not have the guts to make big purchases on the Web, the $6 billion all-cash price they ponied up for advertising network aQuantive should quash that sentiment.
That’s more than 10 times its revenue last year, and, yipes, close to 50 times its cash flow. And that is double what the Seattle-based parent company to Avenue A | Razorfish was worth on the public market just before the acquisition, a figure that has already been bid up by all the recent activity in the market.
That includes Google’s $3.1 billion bid for DoubleClick, Yahoo’s $680 million to buy the rest of Right Media and WPP Group’s acquisition this week of 24/7 Real Media for $649 million. And, by the way, AOL bought a German-based online ad company called Adtech this week, too.
If you don’t know what to make of all this, consider yourself in the majority, as these prices seem–let’s just come out and say it, as we are not investment bankers–insane. In fact, the general Internet acquisition market feels to me a lot like the wacky IPO market back in the height of the bubble, where you were often slack-jawed by the rising stock prices for companies with no visible means of comparable growth.
But before I get going on that rant, at least the big players are overpaying in a market that I think we can all agree is one that is just at its most early stages. Here’s why:
1. Spending by big advertisers online lags well behind what many call “audience engagement.” In other words, time spent on the Web has obviously been growing and taking share away from traditional media. But spending online, though fast growing at about $20 billion this year, has not kept the same pace.
2. The time to act, then, is now, to lock up any and all available assets in this space, especially ones that give the buyer a big market share and critical mass. The three biggest online ad players, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, have snapped up the three biggest independent online ad agencies.
3. As more ad spending shifts online, the ability to have expertise and to innovate quickly will become critical. What all these companies are buying–besides stronger relationships with advertising clients–are people and experience.
4. Most of all, there was no way Microsoft was not going to answer Google after it bought DoubleClick, especially if it wants (and it does) to stay competitive with the search giant in the online ad market. Given that its talks with Yahoo about some sort of partnership (as I have said before–please don’t) have not borne fruit (as eager as, I am sure, Microsoft ‘s Steve Ballmer would like to make that announcement), such a move by the company seemed inevitable.
Could they resist? I think not.
Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.