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.

Spring cleaning

Contact: Brenon Daly

For many tech companies, it’s time for a bit of spring cleaning. Specifically, there’s been a fair amount of sweeping out of corner offices. Last week saw Time Warner turn over the reins of its struggling AOL unit to a former Google sales executive. (Yes, we share the puzzlement around Tim Armstrong’s move.) Today, Internap Network Services got a fresh face at the top as wheeler-dealer Eric Cooney had his first day as chief executive at the beaten-down networking company. And in just two weeks, John Thompson ends a decade-long run as CEO of Symantec, turning over the security and storage giant to current COO Enrique Salem.

Amid all these moves, we wonder if the sweeping changes in companies’ executive suites will be accompanied by some sweeping out of companies’ portfolios. In the case of AOL, we’re pretty sure that the new appointment will hasten a sale of the unit. (My colleague Thomas Rasmussen noted last summer the concerning ‘lack of urgency’ at Time Warner over AOL, even as subscribers continued to plummet.) When Symantec announced last November that Salem would take the top spot, we speculated that NetBackup, Symantec’s backup and recovery unit, could find its way onto the auction block.

But what about today’s appointment at Internap? We wonder if the new leadership might not take a fresh approach to its underperforming content delivery network (CDN) unit. Internap’s big move into CDN came in October 2006, when it paid $217m in stock for VitalStream Holdings. Internap has acknowledged that it overpaid for the company, writing down a chunk of the purchase price.

And, as my colleague Jim Davis noted in a Tier1 report last week, the performance of Internap’s CDN business has lagged that of its rivals. In fact, Internap’s CDN unit has posted revenue declines for three straight quarters. We would hasten to add that the company’s just-appointed CEO has a solid M&A record behind him. In his previous post as head of Tandberg Television, Cooney oversaw a number of acquisitions before selling the company to Ericsson in early 2007. Could he be planning some dealmaking around Internap’s CDN business?

Assembling the deliverable

Comcast’s digital content delivery software subsidiary ThePlatform made its first acquisition this week, picking up tiny social networking startup Chirp Interactive. Founded just one year ago, the San Francisco-based company has developed an interactive screen saver that collects updates from websites like Facebook and Flickr. Structured as an asset acquisition, ThePlatform will use the VC-backed company’s technology and select employees to build similar social features into its own content distribution and management system.

Comcast bought ThePlatform in 2006, early in its efforts to build a viable online video distribution business, and operates the business as an independent entity. Since 2006, it’s been reported that the cable giant has shelled out nearly half a billion dollars on five online deals since the beginning of 2006, including its purchases of movie review and ticketing website Fandango in April 2007 and social networking site Plaxo in May 2008. Comcast’s VC arm, Comcast Interactive Capital, has also been banking heavily on online startup. One recipient of Comcast’s capital is tiny video and advertising distribution company Revver, which incidentally was picked up by LiveUniverse in February.

Going forward, we ask where Comcast and its VC arm will be setting their sights. Well, mobile content distribution, of course. In fact, Comcast participated in a $12.6m seed-round funding of Boston-based mobile WiMax startup Cartiza earlier this month. It also joined Google, Time Warner and other industry behemoths in a $3.2bn round in WiMax company Clearwire in April. After building up a healthy reserve of content, a video and advertising distribution platform and increasing social networking capabilities, the need to converge these platforms on mobile devices is clear, and Comcast is making the moves to do just this.

Selected Comcast acquisitions

Date announced Target Target description Deal value
May 14, 2008 Plaxo Online address book synchronization $160m*
April 11, 2007 Fandango Online movie tickets & reviews $192m*
June 28, 2006 ThePlatform Digital media publishing & delivery $90m*

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *Reported values