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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AT&T pays $85.4bn for Time Warner amid strong demand for original content

Contact: Scott Denne

Original content plays a starring role in telecom’s future as AT&T shells out $85.4bn for Time Warner. Facing competitive pressures in its core wireless business – revenue was down year over year in that segment last quarter – AT&T plans to leverage Time Warner (owner of HBO, Warner Brothers Studios and Turner Networks, among other properties) to provide original content for the latest online content distribution properties, such as its forthcoming streaming service, DIRECTV Now.

The availability of commercial-free, on-demand content initially drew eyeballs to streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. As troubling as that was for TV and Internet service providers to watch, it was just a remake of the distribution of content – a business where they’re comfortable. Increasingly, though, as surveys by 451 Research’s VoCUL show, original content is the draw. In our most recent survey in June, the number of Netflix subscribers that cited original content as an important factor in their subscription rose seven points from December to 34% – the same percentage of subscribers to Time Warner’s HBO streaming service also cited original content. (Only Showtime had a higher percentage, with 36%).

Differentiated content comes with a substantial price tag. AT&T will spend $85.4bn in cash and stock (split evenly) to acquire Time Warner. After bolting on Time Warner’s existing debt, the target has an enterprise value of $106bn, or 3.8x trailing revenue. That’s almost a turn higher than the valuation of Walt Disney, a company with growth in the high-single digits (compared with Time Warner’s slight declines this year). AT&T has taken out a $40bn bridge loan to fund the transaction, which it expects to close next year. When it does, AT&T expects to continue to operate the acquired business as a separate unit with the same management team.

For Time Warner, the deal provides a way out of a challenging time for high-end content producers. When quality content was pricey to create and distribute, Time Warner and a handful of others could claim a monopoly on consumer attention. That’s no longer the case. Coupled with that, trends in advertising are beginning to favor entities that can provide targeted audiences – something AT&T plans to pursue with this move. For now, advertisers still look toward networks to reach large-scale audiences. But Time Warner and others, which have no direct links to their audiences, are at risk of being disintermediated by content distributors and service providers. In that respect, it makes sense for Time Warner to make a hedge against this trend by linking up with AT&T. It also helps explain why Time Warner management had little interest in a slightly smaller bid from 21st Century Fox in 2014.

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Verizon strikes $4.8bn deal for Yahoo’s core biz

Contact: Scott Denne

Verizon moves to augment its media business with the $4.8bn purchase of Yahoo’s central assets. The deal, which wraps up years of speculation about Yahoo’s future in the new media landscape, will see its core business and operations head to Verizon to be integrated with AOL, while its investments and other assets will stay behind in a company that will be renamed and restructured as a publicly traded, registered investment entity.

Aside from licensing revenue from some of the noncore patents that Yahoo will keep, nearly all of its $4.9bn in trailing revenue will head over to Verizon. The transaction values the target’s assets at about 1x trailing revenue, compared with the 1.6x that Verizon paid for AOL last year. The discrepancy in value reflects the depth of the comparative technology portfolios. Both vendors spent heavily on ad network businesses in the back half of the past decade and early years of this one. More recently, AOL turned its investments toward programmatic, attribution and other advanced advertising technology capabilities. Yahoo doubled down on content while its ad network technologies aged.

This move is all about scaling Verizon’s media footprint. Both Yahoo and AOL have roots in the Web portal space. And both are selling to Verizon for similar prices. But Yahoo’s media assets are substantially larger. AOL generates roughly $1bn from its owned media properties – Yahoo pulls in 3.5x that amount. Owning Yahoo’s media properties will enable Verizon to offer greater reach to advertisers and therefore land bigger deals and at better margins than the ad network revenue that made up almost half of AOL’s topline. Also, having a larger audience for its owned properties will provide AOL’s ad-tech business with more data that it can use to improve its audience targeting.

Telecom services is a saturated market with few net-new customers. Most growth comes from winning business away from competitors. With this acquisition (and AOL before it), Verizon plans to leverage its investments in mobile bandwidth and distribution – its existing mobile and TV customers – to find growth in the digital media sector. According to 451 Research’s Market Monitor, digital advertising revenue in North America will increase 12% this year to $40.6bn, compared with just 4% growth for mobile carrier services.

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Facebook’s success in mobile media can’t be left to F8

Contact: Scott Denne

As Facebook opens its annual F8 developer conference today, it’s worth noting that while the company is clearly ascendant in mobile, it’s not dominant in digital media, where it is very much the challenger to Google. Facebook’s growth is impressive. Revenue spiked 44% to $18bn (80% of that in mobile) in 2015, a number it reported just after its 11th birthday: Google passed the $20bn mark in nine years and today is nearly quadruple that size. In the next phase of growth, where Facebook is positioning itself as a mobile media vendor, not just a social media vendor, Facebook faces a distinct set of challenges than Google was up against when it grew from its base in search to owning the Web.

Once Google sewed up the search market, it faced scant competition as it soaked up much of the digital advertising landscape and was the clear winner in the first phase of digital media. The same isn’t true of Facebook. It finds itself facing an incumbent in Google and its future lies in the outcome of a comparatively fluid media market. Now that it’s emerged as the dominant social media platform, the company is taking a subtler approach as it seeks to win the next phase of digital media. In addition to facing a strong incumbent, Facebook is saddled with higher expectations – its stock trades at 16x trailing revenue, while Google was valued between 5-6x at the same moment in its own history.

Facebook plans to own the next phase of digital media by offering measurement, metrics and distribution to enable advertisers and publishers to transition into mobile. The best indication of the difference in strategy is that while Facebook was widely expected to launch a media-buying platform along the lines of Google’s DoubleClick Bid Manager, its recent relaunch of Atlas instead focused on measurement and attribution. And most importantly, it focused on measurement of people and demographics, the lingua franca of today’s television business, not cookies and intent – the currency of display advertising. While Google made a mint dismantling the print media market, Facebook is pursuing a potentially more lucrative opportunity in capturing the shift of TV budgets to digital and hoping to do so wherever those dollars land – in-apps, in online videos, on its network or in any new format that could emerge from mobile.

Facebook’s bet is that once advertisers see that mobile works, more will shift to that medium and the company will be the largest beneficiary. It’s well positioned to do that. Nearly one billion people per month engage with the social network across multiple devices, making Facebook better positioned than anyone to link different devices into a common digital currency. The challenge in that strategy is that Facebook must not only be the dominant social network (to power its measurement capabilities), it must also remain the dominant mobile media provider – the money’s in selling the media, not the measurement.

That’s a more difficult and unpredictable path than the one it (or Google) faced in building out a browser-based business. Innovation and change is no longer limited to what can be done at a desk and on a PC. The mobile medium is still nascent. The next phase of digital media will play out across many types of devices (phones, TVs, watches and more to come), and many of those devices are part of consumers’ lives in a way that a TV set or PC never was. All of this makes the future of mobile media challenging to predict. Facebook’s need to own the unpredictable explains its wildly valued – though reasonable – purchases of Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus VR and will be justification when the company bets on the next new media. Over the next two days, we’ll be watching to see what Facebook thinks that might be.

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Amid Super Bowl fever, the sports business needs to take its medicine

Contact: Scott Denne

Super Bowl ad prices continue to rise each year, and that masks the symptoms of the sporting world’s concussion. Sports had previously blocked television audiences from completely heading to the sidelines in favor of video on demand, video games and other forms of media; no longer is that the case. Yet networks continue to increase investments in sports – the NFL just sold a package of Thursday Night Football games next fall for $450m, up from $300m last season. This comes during an exodus of subscribers from the sports-industry’s flagship network, ESPN. And as networks, teams and leagues look for ways to stanch the losses, we expect to see increasing investment in technologies that enable them to keep those audiences.

Time may not be on their side (always good news for bankers). Our surveys suggest acceleration in linear TV’s declining audiences. Only 35% of respondents to one of our 2015 consumer surveys reported seeing a TV ad in the previous week. In a separate survey, 8.4% said they had altogether canceled their traditional TV service, while another 16.7% said they are ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ likely to cancel within the next six months – the highest level to date on both figures.

Increasing fan engagement was the logic behind the heavy investments into daily fantasy sports. The two leading companies in that space – FanDuel and DraftKings – raised more than $700m combined, much of it from networks, sports leagues and team owners. Although those bets don’t look set to pay off, the lure of free cash isn’t the only way to keep fans interested. We recommend the sports industry’s heavy hitters start acquiring and investing in areas that are beginning to change how fans interact with sports.

The first is the technology and talent that power mobile apps. Buying and developing apps gives teams, leagues and networks a direct link to their fans today. Broadcast signals and ticket stubs don’t generate data. Apps do, and having such data will ultimately make their audiences more valuable, and help them find ways to grow and keep them. The second area is in emerging categories of virtual and augmented reality. Madison Square Garden Company, owners of the New York Knicks and Rangers, has already made two venture investments in virtual reality – NextVR (along with Comcast) and Jaunt (alongside Disney). A ringside seat to the growth of these technologies would help sports grow within the next generation of media, rather than succumbing to it, as might happen within the current one.

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Spotify could hear ad revenue with The Echo Nest

Contact: Scott Denne

Spotify’s acquisition of The Echo Nest deals a blow to competitors and brings with it technology to help the company expand beyond its subscription-focused business model. The Echo Nest’s algorithms integrate user preferences, digital analysis of songs and context from around the Web to build playlists for online and mobile music apps.

Spotify was an early customer and now it’s going to own the service that powers personalized radio for its competitors, including iHeartRadio, MOG and Rdio. In addition to a potential poke in the eye of its rivals, the deal takes Spotify’s ad capabilities from rudimentary (homepage takeovers and banner ads) to targeted. The Echo Nest recently launched a service that enables advertisers to target audiences based on how and what they listen to.

Advertising is an increasingly viable method of supporting digital radio as mobile marketing takes off, and this deal gives Spotify the tools to expand those capabilities. For example, last quarter Pandora Media saw a 42% year-over-year jump in its mobile ad revenue per listening hour. As the mobile ad market grows and Pandora tunes its product offerings, it now gets more than half of its revenue from mobile ads – an area where Spotify doesn’t (yet) have a product.

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Corsair acquires streaming audio systems provider Simple Audio

Contact: Tejas Venkatesh

Its IPO plans may not have materialized, but high-performance hardware designer Corsair is continuing to add to its product capabilities. In its first-ever acquisition, Corsair has reached for Simple Audio, a maker of streaming systems that enable consumers to remotely listen to music stored on computers and mobile devices. With audio being an integral part of gaming, the deal adds complementary audio products to Corsair’s stable of headsets, speakers and memory modules.

Corsair should also be able to use its worldwide distribution channels to drive sales of Simple Audio’s products. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed but the target described it as a ‘multimillion-dollar’ deal. According to a press release from Young Company Finance, which tracks and reports on early-stage high-growth companies in Scotland, Simple Audio generated about $2.1m in revenue for the nine months ended September 2012. The company only started selling its products in January 2012.

Corsair designs high-performance DRAM modules and other gaming peripherals for personal computers, with a focus on gaming hardware. The low-margin DRAM business accounts for more than two-thirds of its revenue. The company was on track for an IPO before pulling its paperwork in May 2012, citing poor market conditions. For the year ended March 2012, Corsair generated a top line of $480m, with a gross margin in the mid-teens.

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The single most accretive tech acquisition ever

Contact: Brenon Daly

With the passing of Steve Jobs earlier this week and all the deserved praise for the late Apple impresario, we can add one more tribute from the world of M&A: Jobs is the central figure in what’s probably the most accretive tech deal ever done. Remember that it was the purchase in December 1996 of the company that he founded after initially getting fired from Apple (NeXT Computer) that brought Jobs back to Apple.

So viewed that way, the once-and-future king at Apple only got to play that role because Apple acquired NeXT for some $400m. Without that deal, there’s every chance that Jobs wouldn’t have returned to Infinite Loop, and that the company would have simply continued on its path toward irrelevance in the PC Era. Instead, Job worked his magic, introducing computers, music players, phones, tablets and other products that customers may not have known they wanted but found they couldn’t live without.

To get some sense of the impact of Jobs’ return to Apple, consider this: when Apple acquired NeXT, shares of the company were in the single digits. They closed Thursday at $377. Under Jobs’ watch, shares rose almost 6,000%, giving it a current market valuation of $350bn. Apple currently enjoys the richest market cap of any company on the planet. And all that came from a deal that was part IP and part HR.

Apple drops interest in Dropbox for iCloud

by Brenon Daly

Earlier this year, rumors were flying that Apple was putting together a bid – valued at more than $500m – for cloud storage startup Dropbox. That speculation obviously didn’t go anywhere, but it looked a whole lot more credible in light of Monday’s introduction of Apple’s online storage and synching offering, iCloud. The service, which will be free for up to 5GB, will be available in the fall.

On the face of it, Apple’s new service looks mostly like a convenient and efficient way to move iTunes into the cloud. Viewed in that rather limited way, iCloud appears to compete most directly with Google and Amazon, which have both launched online music storage offerings in recent weeks. But as is the case with most of what Apple does, there’s much more going on.

In addition to automatically storing and synching media files such as music, photos and movies, iCloud will keep up-to-date documents as well as presentation and other files. In other words, the uses for iCloud are pretty much exactly the same reasons why some 25 million people also use Dropbox. Is this yet another case of a Silicon Valley giant initially looking to buy but then opting instead to build?

How do you say ‘please come back’ in Korean?

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

When SanDisk released its dismal earnings this week, dismayed shareholders hastily headed for the hills. The exodus caused SanDisk’s stock to plunge 25%. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the flash memory giant lost $1.6bn, pushing its total loss for the year to $2bn. This red ink from operations was exacerbated by the company’s $1bn of acquisition-related write-downs stemming from its $1.5bn acquisition of msystems in July 2006. In the days following the dire news, SanDisk has been trading at a valuation of around $2.2bn. That’s a far cry from the $5.6bn that Samsung offered for SanDisk in September.

To put the decline in perspective, SanDisk’s three largest outside shareholders – Clearbridge Advisors, Capital International Asset Management and Capital Guardian Trust, which collectively own more than 15% of SanDisk (as of September 30) – suffered a paper loss of more than $700m since the day Samsung walked away from the proposed deal. Given this, we wouldn’t be surprised if shareholder ire forced SanDisk to reconsider its strategic options this year. On its earnings call this past Monday, the company reiterated that its board is indeed open to deal with any interested parties, which begs the inevitable question: Who might be willing buyers?

With private equity largely stymied and longtime partner Toshiba repeatedly stating that it’s not interested in a deal, Samsung is still the most logical fit. It has the cash, has shown a willingness to pay a solid premium, and would integrate well with SanDisk’s overall portfolio of products. In addition to its valuable intellectual property assets (which would eliminate those ugly royalty fees) and flash and solid-state drive lineup, SanDisk would instantly give Samsung the second-largest share of the music player market, behind only Apple. Perhaps it’s time for SanDisk CEO Eli Harari to brush up on his Korean, or at least learn how to say ‘please come back’ in that language.