Few targets left in FEO, but are there any buyers?

Contact: Ben Kolada

In the past year, networking vendors have acquired many of the independent front-end optimization (FEO) startups, further narrowing the field in this already niche sector. In fact, there are only a few notable independents left. But is this really a race to consolidate the market, or are acquirers simply adding these capabilities to their portfolios by picking up properties at fairly cheap prices?

FEO focuses on getting a browser to display content more quickly, as opposed to dynamic site acceleration and other services that use network optimization to speed content delivery. For the most part, the FEO segment has been made up of a handful of startups. However, consolidation in the past year took three of these companies out of the buyout line. In May 2011, AcceloWeb sold to Limelight Networks for $12m and two months later Aptimize sold to Riverbed for $17m. Terms weren’t disclosed on Blaze Software’s recent sale to Akamai, but we’re hearing that the price was in the ballpark of $10-20m. That leaves Strangeloop Networks as one of the last companies standing, and its fate is basically secured. After the Blaze deal severed Strangeloop’s partnership with Akamai, the company is likely to find an eventual exit in a sale to remaining partner Level 3 Communications.

Firms interested in entering this sector shouldn’t fret over potentially losing Strangeloop to a competitor. Instead, they should actually reconsider their entry into the FEO market. FEO providers, both past and present, have done little to validate the space. According to our understanding, Aptimize was the largest of the acquired vendors, and its revenue was only in the low single-digit millions. The fact that each target sold for no more than $20m further suggests that the market isn’t yet living up to expectations.

Cloud deals arising from the fog

Contact: Ben Kolada

Going into the last day of the 9th Cloud Computing Expo, held in Santa Clara, California, we get the feeling that conference attendees will see an M&A shakeout within the next few years. To a degree, this dealmaking has already begun, with a small handful of exhibitors already having been scooped up, including a couple of firms that were acquired just last month. Meanwhile, the remaining vendors, most of whom are young startups, are scrapping to define and prove themselves for what they hope will someday be their own fruitful exits.

The cloud computing market is real and growing. My 451 Market Monitor colleagues, who have the tedious task of sizing the cloud market, estimate global cloud revenue (excluding SaaS) at $9.8 billion for 2011, with nearly 40% revenue growth expected in 2012. Many players in this sector have already taken note of its potential and acquirers’ interest, resulting in an increase in both deal sizes and deal volume for cloud vendors. According to The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase, so far this year a record 465 transactions claimed some aspect of cloud. That’s nearly double what we saw in the same period last year. (To be honest, many of these acquired companies are about as cloudy as snake oil, but there are real cloud deals being done. Platform Computing and Gluster, which both announced their sales last month, sold for an estimated combined deal value just shy of $450m.)

However, in terms of revenue, most of the cloud startups we spoke with haven’t yet really proven themselves commercially. But as these firms transition their focus from product development to marketing and sales, their growth will attract more and more suitors. And double-digit revenue isn’t exactly a requirement for a successful exit, as both the recent CloudSwitch and Cloud.com takeouts proved. Though we understand that none of these companies are looking to sell just yet, we wouldn’t be surprised if cloud-enablement providers such as OnApp, Abiquo and Nimbula are picked off one by one within the next few years. And we were reminded yet again that open source networking and routing vendor Vyatta could someday see a real offer from Dell, though the IT giant would likely face a competing bid from Cisco.

Shorting follows shopping at KIT digital

Contact: Brenon Daly

Following an M&A spree earlier this year that had some on Wall Street skeptical, KIT digital says it’s now in ‘harvest’ mode from its earlier deals. In the first four months of 2011, the video asset management (VAM) vendor scooped up five companies. Although that’s the same number of deals it did in all of 2010, KIT digital’s recent acquisitions have been dramatically larger than the transactions inked last year. The collective tab of slightly more than $200m for 2011 deals is five times the amount the company spent last year.

KIT digital’s big spending brought out some bears. The stock has shed about one-third of its value so far this year, compared to the flatlining Nasdaq. (It dropped another 10% on Thursday after KIT digital announced that it will be selling about $30m worth of shares at a price that’s only slightly above the low point of its valuation over the past year. The stock, which opened the year above $16, traded around $9.50 on Thursday afternoon.)

In addition, the number of people who are shorting KIT digital has doubled since the company started its fast-track M&A program. According to the most recent numbers, nearly 10 million shares of KIT digital are sold short, up from 4.4 million at the start of 2011. Conscious of that, the company said earlier this week at the ThinkEquity Growth Conference that it was almost certainly out of the M&A market for now, and that its financials are getting much ‘cleaner’ now that it has closed – and accounted for – its recent acquisitions.

Limelight lightens its load

Contact: Ben Kolada

In a move to streamline its operations, Limelight Networks is divesting its EyeWonder assets to DG FastChannel. Although the deal comes at a considerable discount – DG’s $66m all-cash offer is only slightly more than half the amount that Limelight paid in cash and stock for EyeWonder less than two years ago – it should help the ailing CDN vendor focus on its core business. It could even pave the way for a sale of Limelight.

As my colleague Jim Davis notes, Limelight’s original decision to buy EyeWonder appeared strategically sound. The idea was that EyeWonder would funnel new customers to the Limelight CDN. That could have worked, but a missed development target meant that ad agencies were taking business elsewhere this year. As a result, revenue for the acquired company essentially flatlined. When Limelight picked up EyeWonder in December 2009, the target generated some $35m in trailing sales. The outlook two years later isn’t much better. New owner DG FastChannel indicated that it expects revenue from the acquired property to max out at $37m this year.

Wall Street appears to back the asset sale. Following the announcement, shares of Limelight closed the day up nearly 6% on volume that was almost triple the monthly average. Although the company has lost half its market value this year, due in large part to flat revenue growth and third-quarter revenue guidance that came in below analysts’ expectations, an opportunistic acquirer could swoop in to scoop up the company. Following the slide in share price, Limelight is sporting a market cap of just $300m. Add in the more than $100m of cash in its coffers and little debt, and the company could be had for relatively cheap for an opportunistic buyer.

Limelight raises cash, could go shopping

Contact: Jim Davis, Ben Kolada

Fresh off its recent secondary, Limelight Networks could well look to put some of that recently raised cash to work in some shopping trips. (It now has more than ample resources. Last week’s offering netted Limelight $77m, essentially doubling its cash holdings.) If it does look to do a deal or two, we expect that Limelight’s next acquisition will complement its core content delivery network (CDN) business. The company has already been broadening the range of services it can provide in the video ecosystem, most notably with the $110m purchase of EyeWonder’s ad campaign creation business in December 2009 and most recently with the tiny acquisition of Delve Networks, a provider of online video platform services.

One area Limelight could buy into is peer-to-peer (P2P) delivery, since the CDN industry is facing growing concerns about the ability to manage increasing loads of Internet video traffic. There are some providers making a go of P2P by creating tools and services around P2P-assisted game delivery, including Pando Networks and Solid State Networks, that would complement Limelight’s HTTP delivery service. Limelight could also take a look at Octoshape, which has done a significant amount of work in live video transport via P2P-assisted delivery. Octoshape’s service can utilize multiple cloud platforms to scale video-streaming delivery – so even if Limelight isn’t used as the origin CDN, it could gain a tool for providing extra streaming capacity to content owners dealing with delivering large events (think the Olympics or World Cup Soccer) to massive audiences that might wind up overwhelming even the largest CDNs.

If Limelight continues to structure its purchases as it historically has, the company could use its cash and securities to make a fairly large acquisition. To date, slightly more than half (57%) of the $117.6m Limelight has spent on M&A has been in cash, with the remainder in stock. Combine that structuring with the nearly $150m of cash and marketable securities Limelight now holds, and it could wield $300m in buying power. However, the company would obviously have to temper any equity use so it wouldn’t significantly dilute existing shareholders. And we would add that Limelight’s shareholders are a fairly satisfied bunch, with the stock having doubled over the past year.

Google’s growing video ambitions

Contact: Brenon Daly, Jim Davis

More than four years after Google acquired YouTube, the video content site is either putting up black numbers, or is very close to it. That’s according to hints offered recently by the company, although Google has often appeared unconcerned about the profitability of the wildly popular site that the search giant picked up in its second-largest acquisition. (YouTube could have slipped to Google’s third-largest deal, but it appears that rumored talks with Groupon have come to nothing.)

Just how popular is YouTube? Google recently indicated that a day’s worth of video (a full 24 hours) is uploaded every single second to the site. And while profitability has not been an immediate concern for YouTube, Google has nonetheless demonstrated that it is committed to online video – and that it is willing to put even more money behind the effort. Just late last week, Google picked up Widevine Technologies.

As my colleague Jim Davis notes, Widevine gives Google technology used to underpin both online and broadcast premium TV services through the use of software-based DRM systems. This means the company – with its recently launched Google TV product, as well as Android-powered phones and laptops running Chrome – will be able to offer secure premium content on any of these platforms and enable subscription and video-on-demand services, as an example.

For instance, YouTube could now charge for access to live events that it has broadcast on occasion, including a U2 concert last year and the Indian Premier League cricket matches this year. Until recently, YouTube had used CDN services from Akamai for live broadcasts. But just in the past few months, YouTube has started testing its own live-streaming services platform (and has hired a number of former Akamai employees to boot). If Google continues to develop a secure and scalable content delivery platform, CDN vendors may well feel the pinch.

Sonic Solutions-DivX: a big swing back to the same place

Contact: Brenon Daly

The market giveth and the market taketh away. While the giving and taking are usually lopsided, there are rare occasions when it does balance itself out. Consider the recent swings in Sonic Solutions. The company announced the largest deal in its history, the $325m acquisition of DivX, on June 2. Along with the purchase, it also warned that financial results for the quarter were going to be a bit light. That started a slide in shares of Sonic Solutions that had lopped off 40% of the company’s market value by July.

The pain of that slide wasn’t lost on shareholders of DivX. The reason: roughly two-thirds of the consideration for their company was coming in the form of Sonic Solutions stock, with the remaining one-third in cash. (We noted near the bottom of the stock’s slide that the decline had cut the purchase price of DivX by about $50m, or 15% compared to the original offer price.)

But by the time the transaction had closed last Friday, shares of Sonic Solutions had regained the ground they had lost in the four months since the deal was announced. In fact, Sonic Solutions closed Friday at almost exactly the same price it did the day before the company announced the acquisition. So from the perspective of DivX, it was almost like nothing at all happened this summer.

The deepening discount on DivX

Contact: Brenon Daly

A week ago, Sonic Solutions announced that it was making its largest-ever acquisition: the $325m cash-and-stock purchase of DivX. While that pending transaction remains the biggest deal that the digital media management vendor has ever considered, it is getting smaller virtually every day. Because of the decline in shares of Sonic Solutions, the price tag for DivX has been trimmed by about $50m, or 15%.

Under terms, Sonic Solutions will hand over $3.75 in cash and about half a share (0.514) for each share of DivX. The cash portion is fixed, so DivX shareholders stand to pocket about $125m from that. On the other hand, the value of the stock component of the proposed transaction varies from day to day, depending on the price of shares of Sonic Solutions.

On the day before Sonic Solutions announced the acquisition, the company’s stock closed at $11.83. Based on that price, DivX shareholders stood to pocket about $200m of equity consideration ($11.83 x 0.514 = $6.18/share x 33 million DivX shares = $200m). With its stock finishing trading Monday at $8.83, the total value of the equity that Sonic Solutions will hand over to DivX shareholders has dropped to $150m. So altogether, the consideration for DivX is about $275m. But the value is headed even lower. On Tuesday, Sonic Solutions shares closed lower — the fifth straight decline since announcing the acquisition.

Will Google land On2?

Contact: Brenon Daly

At this rate, Google may never again go shopping on the public market. Its contentious reach for On2 Technologies, which has been bogged down for a half-year, will come to some kind of resolution after the close of the market today, with shareholders of the video compression software vendor set to vote on Google’s $136m offer. While Google has acquired nearly 50 companies in its history, the proposed purchase of Amex-listed On2 is the first time the search giant has bid for a public company.

When Google initially announced the planned purchase back in early August, it said it hoped to close the deal in the fourth quarter. (As an aside, we’d note that since the original announcement, Google has picked up six private companies, all of them without the drama that has surrounded the proposed On2 acquisition.) The target deadline came and went, and then in early January, Google said it was adding a cash kicker to its original all-equity bid for On2.

Google’s first offer of roughly $106m of its shares for On2 hadn’t drawn enough support from On2’s shareholders. So, the deep-pocketed buyer reached a bit deeper into its pockets to add a $26m all-cash sweetener. Google says the $136m bid is its ‘final’ offer. On2’s board of directors, as well as the three main proxy advisory firms, have all urged the vendor’s shareholders to vote for Google’s proposed purchase this afternoon.

Will Adobe-Omniture marriage prompt online video M&A?

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen, Jim Davis

When Adobe Systems and Omniture announced the details and rationale behind their $1.8bn tie-up in mid-September, some interesting items emerged. Highlighted was the obvious benefit from a combination of Adobe’s popular Flash video platform and Omniture’s analytics capabilities. As the Web analytics market has become more saturated, Omniture has recently been expanding into higher-margin niches such as online video analytics. Combining online video content management with analytics is an area in which some early startups have carved out a profitable niche over the past few years as video has finally started to move to the Web.

However, if the newly bulked-up Adobe truly moves into the space – as we suspect the company will – it will undoubtedly present an enormous challenge to an industry previously dominated by a few well-funded startups. As a consequence of other larger players wanting to get a piece of the booming sector and startups being more inclined to strengthen their position, we believe consolidation in the market is inevitable. With that as our premise, who might be buying, and who are the potential prime targets?

Among a slew of startups in the space, the two primary ones we think could be in play in this scenario are market leaders Move Networks and Brightcove. The two have each taken in roughly $90m in venture capital. It is worth noting that both Microsoft and Cisco are strategic investors in Move Networks, and we think the company would make a great fit for either one since both have a strong focus on video moving forward. Meanwhile, both IAC/InterActive and AOL are strategic investors in competitor Brightcove. While we don’t think AOL is in a position to make an acquisition like this now, we would not put it past IAC. Google with its more consumer-oriented YouTube makes a logical acquirer as well, particularly as a way to add a business-friendly enterprise offering.

And finally, we might put forward rich content delivery networks (CDNs) such as Akamai and Limelight Networks. These vendors have been buying their way into premium verticals recently to escape the rapid commoditization of their core business and would be wise to consider acquiring into the space. From the estimated $40m or so in revenue that we understand Brightcove brings in, a large part of that comes from reselling bandwidth through CDNs.