Valassis sees discounts in MaxPoint acquisition 

Contact: Scott Denne

Coupon distributor Valassis Communications has taken another step in its transition to digital with the $95m acquisition of location-based ad-tech vendor MaxPoint Interactive. In addition to getting Valassis another marketing product to sell to consumer goods providers, the target’s technology could plug a substantial weakness in RetailMeNot, a digital coupon firm that Valassis’ parent company, Harland Clarke Holdings, bought in April.

The sale ends a turbulent and short run as a public company for MaxPoint, which debuted in April 2016 with a stock price that’s more than 3x what it’s getting in today’s deal, which values it at a paltry 0.6x trailing revenue.

MaxPoint enables advertisers to run national campaigns for consumer goods that target prospects at the local level, based on a mix of proximity to retail locations and digital demand signals from particular neighborhoods. As one of the world’s largest distributors of coupons, Valassis hands MaxPoint’s media services business a new avenue for growth. But the larger opportunity is in integrating the underlying technology with its recently acquired online coupon business.

RetailMeNot built a business by distributing digital coupons for retail locations. The problem it’s always had is proving to its retailers that those coupons work – did the coupons drive people to the store or did the store just give discounts to people who planned to come anyway? To operate its media business, MaxPoint developed technology that predicts demand for products within the market area for a physical retail location. RetailMeNot could deploy such demand analysis to optimize when and where it launches campaigns and use it to measure the impact.

Moreover, a partnership between the two companies could enable MaxPoint to deliver coupons to RetailMeNot that are tied to a retail location but funded by product vendors and in doing so provide both retailers and consumer products companies a way to navigate a market that’s rapidly shifting to digital with a shared marketing strategy that they’ve employed for decades.

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Tremor Video shakes off its ad network roots with $50m divestiture

Contact: Scott Denne

The dizzying number of vendors and dozens of subcategories of advertising technology have had many predicting for several years now an imminent wave of consolidation. Yet for the ad-tech vendors trading on US exchanges, specialization – not consolidation – has become the chosen strategy. Tremor Video has become the latest to adopt such a strategy by selling its video ad network to Taptica for $50m in cash.

Tremor, like Rubicon Project, which earlier this year divested its $100m acquisition of Chango, sees more opportunity to expand its relationships with ad sellers, rather than buyers, although the resemblance ends there. Rubicon is a longtime player in supply-side platforms (SSPs) and generates most of its revenue from that business. Tremor will shed most of its revenue with this deal – its remaining assets accounted for $29m of its $167m in 2016 sales.

While Tremor’s business with buyers has declined, its burgeoning SSP – a video ad exchange – expanded its top line by 84% in the past 12 months to $34m in trailing revenue. Without the weight of its buyside business, Tremor can leverage its newfound capital to invest in an anticipated growth in the supply of video advertising coming through over-the-top and connected TV channels.

That Tremor shed almost all of its revenue with little impact on its stock price – it was up about 2% at midday – speaks partly to the opportunities investors see for it to expand with a business model with software-like margins. It also speaks to just how little value investors place on ad networks that sell services to both sides of an ad sale.

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Advertisers continue to fly from Twitter

Contact: Scott Denne

Earnings calls this week from Google, Facebook and Twitter highlight how far the latter has fallen behind those two giants. While advertisers flocked to Google and Facebook, they fled from Twitter. Although its results were dismal, the onetime contender for Facebook’s social media crown seems to have correctly identified its differentiator and is building – slowly – a strategy to capitalize on that.

Twitter’s top line dropped 5% to $574m in the second quarter, a decline that would have been more dramatic without a rise in its data-licensing business. An 8% slide in its revenue from advertisers mixed with a 12% jump in daily active users points to the shrinking price of Twitter’s ad impressions. Facebook, by comparison, experienced a 25% boost in its revenue per user on its way to a 45% increase in revenue in Q2.

In an attempt to get sales growing once again, Twitter’s management has focused on the appetite of its audience for real-time information and embraced video partnerships in verticals with a similar focus – music, sports and news. Yet its drooping ad rates attest to the slow burn of such efforts: declining ad rates amid an environment of rising prices for digital video inventory.

To raise its ad sales, Twitter could pursue a media rollup in verticals that match its strengths. The $4bn it has in the bank, along with a stock that still trades near 5x TTM revenue, gives it the flexibility to pursue a series of modest-sized targets as well as larger digital media properties. For example, music video site VEVO would complement its existing streaming partnership with Live Nation and get Twitter one of the most trafficked video sites on the internet.

Twitter’s platform will never have the scale and reach of Facebook, whose monthly audience is six times larger and increasing at a higher rate. But it can expand its reach into the audiences it has by leveraging its real-time strength and extending them off its platform. As a social media company, Twitter’s a runt. But as a digital media company its open, conversational platform gives it a way to engage audiences in ways that aren’t available to other digital media firms.

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Adobe’s search for markets beyond the web 

Contact: Scott Denne 

Adobe is extending its ambitions beyond the website. Having thrived in the first iteration of digital marketing, the vendor is turning its attention to the next one – where software has a role in all of a business’ customer interactions, not just those coming in through the homepage. It needs a wider set of software to capture that larger market opportunity and fend off old adversaries in web marketing, as well as new ones in segments such as mobile marketing, e-commerce software and customer service that are eyeing the same prize.

Today Adobe opens Summit, its annual marketing conference, with the theme of building customer experiences. It’s roughly the same theme as last year’s show, with the subtle shift that much of the content has a more instructional bent, whereas last year Adobe was more intent on convincing marketers that customer experience matters in the first place. In the intervening time, there’s been a correspondingly subtle shift in the company’s M&A strategy. Its most recent acquisition wasn’t just a bolt-on to sell into its existing sales channel like past deals. It was an attempt to open up a new path to market for its products.

Adobe entered digital marketing almost eight years ago with the $1.8bn purchase of website analytics company Omniture and followed that, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, with $2bn worth of M&A that took its capabilities beyond the website, but always with an eye toward adding products that it could upsell to web-oriented digital marketers. In the last quarter, its marketing unit grew 26% year over year to $477m in revenue.

Its latest acquisition, TubeMogul, stands out not so much for its size ($540m) as for the fact that its video media-buying software is built for brand managers and TV media planners – a group with far different priorities than digital marketers, and access to larger budgets. The deal, along with Adobe’s messaging, show that it’s ready to start exploring purchases that will enable it to sell to marketers that don’t have a website-first bent and to other customer-facing parts of a business.

Increasing its appeal to mobile app developers and app-centric marketers would be a logical next step from Adobe’s roots in web marketing. Both mParticle and TUNE would serve as a cornerstone acquisition in that space – the latter for its breadth of mobile analytics and marketing tools, the former for its customer data platform that plugs into most mobile app tools. Adobe may also look to add to its e-commerce capabilities by reaching for a larger social media management product or even expanding into customer service software. Whatever its next move, Adobe seems intent on doing more these days than refreshing its website-based marketing business.

‘Eyeballing’ the farcical Snap IPO

Contact: Brenon Daly 

It might seem a bit out of step to quote the father of communism when looking at the capital markets, but Karl Marx could well have been speaking about the recent IPOs by social networking companies when he said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. For the tragedy, we have only to look at Twitter, which went public in late 2013. The company arrived on Wall Street full of Facebook-inspired promise, only to dramatically bleed out three-quarters of its value since then.

Now, in the latest version of Facebook’s IPO, we have last week’s debut of Snap. And, true to Marx’s admonition, this offering is indeed farcical. The six-year-old company has convinced investors that every dollar it brings in revenue this year is somehow three times more valuable than a dollar that Facebook brings in. Following its frothy offering, Snap is valued at more than $30bn, or 30 times projected 2017 sales. For comparison, Facebook trades at closer to 10x projected sales. And never mind that Snap sometimes spends more than a dollar to take in that dollar in revenue, while Facebook mints money.

Snap’s absurd valuation stands out even more when we look at its basic business: the company was created on ephemera. Disappearing messages represent a moment-in-time form of communication that people will use until something else catches their eye. (Similarly, people will play Farmville on their phones until they get hooked on another game.) Some of that is already registering at the company, which has seen its growth of daily users slow to a Twitter-like low-single-digit percentage. Any slowing audience growth represents a huge problem for a business that’s based on ‘eyeballs.’

And, to be clear, the farcical metric of ‘eyeballs’ is a key measure at Snap. In its SEC filing, the company leads its pitch to investors with its mission statement followed immediately by a whimsical chart of the growth in users of its service. It places that graphic at the very front of the book, even ahead of the prospectus’ table of contents and far earlier than any mention of how costly that growth has been or even what growth might look like in the future at Snap. But so far, that hasn’t stopped the company from selling on Wall Street.

Snap’s debut through a TV lens

Wall Street investors seem to think social media will be a winner-take-all game. Our view is that just as there were many TV shows vying for audiences in the last era of media, there will be many new-media ‘shows’ such as Twitter, Spotify and Tinder where audiences divide their time. Snap, the maker of the popular Snapchat app, priced its offering Wednesday night at $17 per share and jumped more than 50% by Thursday afternoon, giving it a market cap of $29bn, or 72x trailing revenue. Snap is a show that’s valued as a network.

The company builds social media apps focused on the smartphone camera. It was founded around the idea of sending photos to individuals that would vanish and has since built out other capabilities such as filters and lenses to augment the pictures and stories to share with larger groups. Those features have made it popular with 18-34 year olds in North America, a demographic that’s highly coveted by advertisers and increasingly hard to reach as they spend less time on TV than older audiences. That demographic, mixed with ad offerings such as sponsored lenses and other nontraditional, interactive products, has led to scorching revenue growth.

Snap only began to generate sales from its ad offerings in mid-2015 and annual revenue grew almost 7x to $404m in 2016 (its losses are even larger thanks to hefty IT infrastructure costs). Early signs suggest that revenue will continue to grow rapidly – at least in the short term. High-ranking advertising executives have publicly lauded the company and the results that it generates for their clients. And Snap had an ARPU of just $2 last quarter for its 68 million North American users. By comparison, Facebook generates about $20. Yet Facebook trades at just 12x revenue, meaning that Snap’s newest investors have priced the company as if it has already closed that gap. Facebook took more than four years to grow its North American ARPU by that amount.

The key nuance for us is that where Facebook offers a broad identity platform that touches most of the US Internet population, Snap is limited to a single (albeit valuable) demographic. Facebook has a platform that can (and does) bolt on other social networks (or shows, to stick with the analogy). And Facebook is protected by a network effect that Snap doesn’t benefit from.

Snap’s pitch that it could be an Internet powerhouse is built on the assumption of continued growth of revenue and audience through new product development (both new ad offerings and new consumer products). Its total daily average users grew just 3% over the fourth quarter to 158 million. Compare that with its quarterly growth rate of 14% a year ago and it looks like Snap is running out of steam. By contrast, Facebook put up 9% quarterly user growth leading up to its own IPO (off an audience that was then three times as large as Snap’s current count).

A broken promise to be the third leg of the Google-Facebook digital media stool led Twitter’s stock to shed two-thirds of its value since its 2013 IPO once it became obvious that its audience size had plateaued. Snap could be setting itself up for the same trap. Twitter currently trades at 3.5x trailing revenue. Snap’s coveted demographic and unique ad formats give it better growth potential than Twitter, even if audience expansion does indeed stall. Yet Snap’s current valuation forces it to chase an audience with Facebook-like scale and the window for it to be a solid but not dominant media company has now disappeared.

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Singtel’s Amobee takes a Turn toward a broader ad-tech platform 

Contact: Scott Denne 

Singtel doubles the size of its ad-tech business with the $310m acquisition of Turn Inc, one of the earliest vendors serving the programmatic advertising market. Together, the two companies manage about $1bn in media spending. Today’s combination could help bring economies of scale to both businesses, an important and rare element of the low-margin ad-tech sector. For Amobee, Singtel’s ad-tech unit, the deal brings it a broader platform – Amobee is mostly a mobile ad player – and a footprint in the North American market.

The $310m price tag assigns Turn a multiple, according to our understanding of the target’s revenue, that’s roughly in line with the 2.5x trailing revenue that Adobe paid for video media platform TubeMogul. Turn is getting a market multiple in its sale, although one that comes in at less than half the post-money valuation of its last venture round in early 2014.

That earlier valuation came during a period of hyper-growth for Turn and the programmatic ad market. Its peers have similar private valuations and Turn won’t be the only one in the space to exit below its previous private funding. There’s an emerging cohort of buyers for these technologies (as we predicted earlier) as growth for many of the vendors has tapered off. TubeMogul, although public at the time of its sale, also exited below the high-water mark of its stock price that it reached in 2014.

LUMA Partners advised Turn on its sale. We’ll have a more detailed report on this transaction it tomorrow’s 451 Market Insight.

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Snap pictures a massive valuation in upcoming IPO

Contact: Scott Denne

Snap, the company behind the social networking app Snapchat, has taken the next step toward one of the most highly anticipated IPOs by disclosing its prospectus. The documents show astonishing revenue growth and a strong hold on a coveted demographic that will have some investors believing it could become the next major online media company. No less astonishing are Snap’s valuation expectations. Based on the price of its last private funding, the company carries a valuation of about $25bn, roughly 62 times trailing revenue. For comparison, Facebook trades at 12x, Alphabet (Google) at 5x and Twitter at 4x.

There’s no doubt that Snap has built an incredible media business. It has 158 million daily users, 68 million of them in North America. A majority of those users are 18-34 years old, a widely sought after demographic by advertisers and one that’s increasingly difficult to reach through television ads. That’s a big part of the reason why Snap’s revenue has grown sharply – it only began to post sales in 2015.

Snap generated about $2 per user in North America last quarter. Facebook generates about $24, so it’s not unprecedented for Snap to grow this number by 10x. And it will have to do so, as there’s not much space left for Snap within that demographic. There are about 110 million people in North America that fall into that age group and Snap’s daily users in North America grew by less than 5% last quarter. (Sales from international audiences at both social networks are a fraction of those from North America.)

To keep users and advertisers engaged, the company points to its history of generating new products and features. While it’s been successful in doing that to this point, it’s challenging to keep that momentum going on a platform that’s designed to entertain. The Snap team seems to have an eye for design and entertainment, but the offering documents cast doubt on its judgement in other parts of the business.

Nearly all of the company’s infrastructure runs on Google’s cloud and Snap signed a deal last month that commits it to spending $400m per year for the next five years on Google infrastructure. Snap’s ambition is to carve out a large share of the digital advertising market, and it’s hard to justify running its critical infrastructure with its largest rival.

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Time extends Viant into mobile apps with Adelphic purchase

Contact: Scott Denne
Time Inc has scooped up Adelphic, which provides a platform for buying ad inventory in mobile apps, as the storied media company hedges its bets to make up for its declining print revenue. The acquirer plans to add Adelphic to its Viant division, which it bought last year to build out a targeted digital advertising business.
With Adelphic, Viant adds software that will enable it to push its vision of people-based ad targeting into mobile apps. Adelphic is one of the strongest pure mobile app platforms but operates in a challenging market. Despite the overall growth of mobile advertising and mobile audiences, few mobile advertising vendors have been able to scale well. Much of the revenue in the space has gone to Facebook and a handful of mobile ad networks.
Those advertisers seeking a self-serve platform like Adelphic have often turned to one of the cross-channel media-buying platforms. That cohort tends to be strong in web (both mobile and desktop). With today’s acquisition, Time will be able to offer reach into mobile apps, not just web, for their mobile campaigns. However, Time will face technical challenges in expanding its people-based targeting vision into mobile apps, where ads are targeted based on device IDs, not cookies.
Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. We estimate that Adelphic finished the year with $13m in net revenue and would expect it to fetch no more than 3x that amount, given the challenges in the mobile sector and that StrikeAd, a peer, got just 1x trailing revenue in its sale to Sizmek last year. Time has been eager to extend into several new segments, although it hasn’t been eager to pay a premium – it picked up Viant largely by assuming the target’s outstanding debt (see our estimate of that transaction here).
In addition to building out a digital advertising offering that extends beyond its core properties, Time is pursuing several other opportunities to expand its revenue. It has invested in a studio to help advertisers develop content and it recently bought Bizrate, a survey and consumer analytics firm, as it enters the affinity marketing space.
LUMA Partners and Oppenheimer & Co advised Adelphic on its sale.
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Inmar nabs Collective Bias to connect online influencers with in-store sales

Contact: Scott Denne

In a bid to bring hard metrics into the world of influencer marketing, Inmar, a digital promotions and analytics vendor, has acquired Collective Bias. The deal brings together two of the most potent trends in advertising – the appetite among marketers to link spending to purchases and the growing use of long-tail content as a marketing channel.

Collective Bias operates a network of social media content creators that it can leverage for branded content creation and distribution. The company already provides marketers with engagement metrics and under Inmar’s ownership will be able to extend that to actual sales. Inmar was founded in the 1980s as a coupon processor and has since expanded into digital coupons and other retail analytics that will enable it to draw a direct line between engagement with a Collective Bias campaign and consumer purchases.

Making the link between online ads and offline sales has become a substantial driver of acquisitions. That was the rationale behind such big-ticket deals as Oracle’s purchase of Datalogix, Nielsen’s pickup of eXelate and Neustar’s reach for MarketShare Partners. And as we discussed in a recent report, that trend will likely continue. Today’s transaction demonstrates that Inmar and other players in the payments ecosystem recognize the opportunity to use their data to fill this gap.

M&A activity around influencer marketing has seen a recent spurt. Both Facebook and Google, the two largest channels for distributing this content, made tuck-ins (CrowdTangle and FameBit, respectively) to improve their capabilities in this segment. Last summer, Monotype Imaging paid $130m for Olapic, a maker of software for managing branded, user-generated content. Given that deal and the size of Collective Bias (145 employees), today’s transaction may also have reached into nine figures.

GCA advised Collective Bias on its sale.

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