What happened to Alphabet’s M&A bets?

Contact: Brenon Daly

As part of an effort to provide more strategic focus as well as financial transparency, Google reorganized and renamed itself Alphabet last October. In the half-year since that change, the company has lived up to the ‘alpha’ part of its new moniker, handily outperforming the Nasdaq, which is flat for the period. But when it comes to ‘bet,’ it hasn’t been placing nearly as many M&A wagers as it used to.

So far in 2016, the once-prolific buyer has announced just two acquisitions, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. That’s down substantially from the average of six purchases that Google/Alphabet has announced during the same period in each of the years over the past half-decade. (Nor do we expect this year’s totals to be bumped up by Google buying Yahoo, as has been rumored. That pairing would roughly be the sporting world’s equivalent of the Golden State Warriors nabbing the Los Angeles Lakers.)

The ‘alpha’ part of Alphabet is, of course, the Google Internet business, which includes the money-minting search engine, YouTube, Android and other digital units. This division generates virtually all of the overall company’s revenue and is the primary reason why Alphabet is the second-most-valuable tech vendor in the world, with a market cap of over a half-trillion dollars. For more on the company’s progress in dominating the digital world, tune in on Thursday for its Q1 financial report and forecast.

Google/Alphabet M&A

Period Number of announced transactions
January 1-April 18, 2016 2
January 1-April 18, 2015 6
January 1-April 18, 2014 8
January 1-April 18, 2013 4
January 1-April 18, 2012 4
January 1-April 18, 2011 8

Source: 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase

Survey: Ma Bell won’t get ‘churned’ with DirecTV

Contact: Brenon Daly

AT&T’s planned $48.5bn purchase of DirecTV has one thing going for it that Comcast’s similarly sized acquisition of Time Warner Cable doesn’t: customers don’t necessarily hate the providers. That’s at least one way to handicap the outlook for the two proposed pairings, which total, collectively, about $94bn in transaction value. The two deals represent the second- and third-largest tech transactions since 2003.

In the end, the return on both of these mammoth bets by telcos will be determined by how well the new owners serve customers. On that count, AT&T – both by itself and with the addition of DirecTV – has much more goodwill among TV consumers that Comcast-Time Warner Cable, according to ChangeWave Research, a service of 451 Research. In a March survey of 4,375 North American residents, about one-quarter of respondents said they are ‘very satisfied’ with AT&T U-verse and DirecTV. That was more than twice the level that said they are very satisfied with Comcast (11%), and four times the level for last-placed Time Warner Cable (a paltry 6%).

Perhaps more importantly, the ChangeWave survey indicates that TV subscribers aren’t planning to stick with the service they don’t like. (We would note that for service providers, which rely on monthly billing subscription fees to offset huge capital expenditures, churn is particularly corrosive to business models.)

According to ChangeWave, one in eight respondents said they plan to switch from either Comcast or Time Warner Cable in the next half-year – half again as many who planned to jump from either AT&T U-verse or DirecTV. And where are the dissatisfied TV subscribers likely to look to get their fix of The Real Housewives of Orange County or SportsCenter ? Well, it just so happens that DirecTV and ATT U-verse are the most likely replacement service providers, according to ChangeWave.

CW TV switch


For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Today NYSE, tomorrow NBC

Contact: Scott Denne

Twitter harbors ambitions of being a force in both online video and traditional television. Now that the distraction of an IPO is behind it, we expect the company to focus its dealmaking efforts on video advertising technology.

Twitter’s audience isn’t growing as fast as it once was, and to ensure that its revenue growth rate doesn’t slow, it needs to squeeze more revenue from its audience. That was the rationale behind picking up MoPub, which will help Twitter build programmatic features into its own platform and serve as a gateway to the mobile ad market. A video ad firm would enable it to monetize Vine, extend into the growing online video ad space and, most important, grab a piece of the TV ad sector (which still dwarfs the entire digital ad market) by bringing those dollars into its own platform and helping spread them to other places on the Internet by enabling advertisers to follow an audience beyond the living room.

Talent and technology have been the guideposts for Twitter’s past acquisitions, and there’s no reason to think that would change. (The same principles shape the company’s organic growth, as it spends a whopping 40% of its revenue on R&D.) Along those lines, potential targets that would be a good fit are BrightRoll, TubeMogul or even a smaller, emerging video ad provider.

While much of BrightRoll’s business comes from its video ad network, it also operates a video ad exchange, which is similar to what MoPub does in the mobile market. We understand the business has about $240m in annual revenue, so it would be a big bite. TubeMogul sits on the other side of the ad tech table, selling a platform to advertisers to distribute video ads across real-time exchanges, making it a potential complement to MoPub. In addition, it doesn’t come with the ad network baggage, making it a more attractive target for Twitter. TubeMogul also has substantial revenue of its own, bringing in $54m last year and likely well over $100m this year, all with profit margins that are far above the norm in ad tech, according to our sources.

There’s also a handful of emerging players that would likely require less of a capital commitment and could impact Twitter’s efforts in this space. For example, firms like Spongecell and Vungle would bring creative talent, as well as tech. Another possibility is StickyADS.tv, a Paris-based company that would bring Twitter video ad technology as well as a deeper presence in Europe, potentially helping it with low spending among advertisers outside the US.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Facebook focuses on mobile video

Contact: Scott Denne

Having seemingly solved its earlier problems with mobile revenue, Facebook is turning its attention – and M&A activity – toward the next emerging media trend: social video.

The social networking giant has already shown that it can shift its business to meet emerging trends. When it went public less than 18 months ago, practically none of its revenue came from mobile. In Facebook’s most recent quarter, its mobile advertising products brought in 41% of its total ad revenue. More than a little of the growth can be tied to its rapid-fire acquisition program. After spending $1bn on photo-sharing app Instagram, Facebook has pursued a strategy of smaller deals to shore up its mobile technology and team, including its purchases of facial-recognition company Face.com and location-based app maker Glancee.

Its latest addition to the mobile business is Luma, a two-year-old startup based in Palo Alto, California. Facebook had hinted that a deal like this was a possibility. In its most recent earnings call, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Instagram’s newly launched video-sharing capabilities were in need of technology to stabilize the amateur videos on the app. That technology is at Luma’s core.

Acquisitions have always been a big part of Facebook’s business plan, but it has spent relatively little money in picking up new businesses, aside from its $1bn purchase of Instagram in 2012. Excluding that deal, Facebook spent $155m buying about 26 companies in 2011 and 2012. Through the first half of this year, the company has spent $246m on six transactions.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

VHS-era Autodesk stretches in acquisition of mobile video startup Socialcam

Contact: Brenon Daly

Autodesk is no Facebook, but the latest deal by the 30-year-old, battle-worn enterprise software vendor looked like it came from the M&A playbook of one of the new generation of tech buyers. In one of the oddest pairings of new and old, Autodesk, which belongs squarely in the VHS era, said it would hand over $60m for one-year-old Socialcam, a mobile video-sharing service that’s sort of an Instagram for videos. Even though the financial impact is muted (Autodesk has $1.5bn – enough to cover an Instagram and a half – in its treasury), the purchase of Socialcam is a huge stretch for the company.

For starters, there’s no clear way for Autodesk, which sells products primarily to engineers, to make money from consumer-focused Socialcam. While Autodesk touts the fact that Socialcam has been downloaded 16 million times, that doesn’t get Autodesk any closer to the $600m in revenue it has to put up every quarter. (Meanwhile, the deal will lower Autodesk’s earnings for the rest of the year, at least on a GAAP basis.) It’s EPS – rather than eyeballs – that’s the relevant financial metric for Autodesk.

Of course, it’s understandable that the explosive growth of Socialcam and other consumer-oriented companies looks tantalizing to Autodesk and other tech giants posting single-digit-percentage revenue increases. However, that M&A enthusiasm needs to be tempered by the fact that getting a return on an acquisition that doesn’t really fit into the existing business model can prove challenging. That’s particularly true with a company like Autodesk that can’t monetize the acquisition by just throwing a bunch of advertisements against the audience that an app like Socialcam has collected. Like we said, Autodesk is no Facebook.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @MAKnowledgebase.

Will patience pay off for RGB Networks?

Contact:  Thejeswi Venkatesh

On its way to an IPO, Envivio tripled its top line in just two years, reflecting increased demand for high-quality video content on a range of platforms and devices. Yet with just $50m in sales in its last fiscal year, we’re not sure if the video-processing and distribution provider was quite big enough to be a public company. That was evident in Wall Street’s chilly reception of Envivio as it made its way to the Nasdaq. Unlike many other recent tech IPOs, the company had to price its offering below the target range. Then, for most of its first few days as a public company, it traded below the reduced offer price. With a market cap of less than $250m, Envivio won’t quite make the list of hot stocks on Wall Street, which tends to favor larger companies and higher liquidity.

Meanwhile, Envivio’s primary competitor RGB Networks continues to grow its business steadily. We understand that RGB generated $56m in revenue for 2011, which is slightly higher than Envivio’s top line during the same period. Perhaps learning from its rival’s travails, RGB wants to wait before putting in its papers to go public. If all goes according to plan, the company is likely to be much larger at the time of its public debut, which seems to be what Wall Street is buying these days.

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.

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.

Will a stabilized Cisco step back into the market?

Contact: Brenon Daly

After back-to-back quarters that roughed up the networking giant, Cisco reported on Wednesday a reasonably strong close to it fiscal year. Fourth-quarter revenue and earnings at the company topped Wall Street’s expectations, and included a rebound in Cisco’s core switch business. The company also projected that its overall growth would continue in the current fiscal first quarter, although the rate would be just 1-4%.

Chief executive John Chambers stopped short of using one of the metaphoric expressions like ‘air pockets’ or ‘uncharted waters’ that he has used in the past to describe economic uncertainty, but he said repeatedly on the conference call discussing results that the economy is facing numerous ‘challenges.’ From our perspective, we wonder if Cisco will get its M&A machine humming again if it continues to stabilize its business.

The company announced a deal in each of the first three months of 2011, but has been notably absent since then. In other words, Cisco has been out of the market since it first let on that business was getting tougher. Will that change now that business appears to be picking up again?

A new era at Google?

Contact: Brenon Daly

It’s a new era at Google. After the market closes, Google’s once-and-future king Larry Page will give his first report to Wall Street since returning to the throne at the search company he helped found. Page took over at the beginning of the month, with Google shares trading essentially where they were a year ago.

Page, of course, is replacing Eric Schmidt, the ‘grownup’ who was brought in a decade ago to run Google, who now serves as executive chairman at the company. It’s interesting to note from our view that Schmidt steps from Google’s corner office back into a tech industry that looks very different from when the avowed technologist joined the company in 2001. Consider this: both companies where Schmidt basically spent his entire career – most notably Sun Microsystems, but also a relatively brief stint in charge of Novell – have been sold while he was at Google.

Further, both of the sales of Schmidt’s previous companies were pretty much scrap sales, valuing the once-formidable companies at less than one times their revenue. (Collectively, the equity value for both Sun and Novell at the time of their sales is just one-twentieth Google’s current valuation.) Of course, there are some observers who say it’s only a matter of time before Google – having largely missed the shift to social networking – may be headed for a long, slow decline of its own. Just like Sun and Novell.