-Contact Thomas Rasmussen
In a sign of just how far the social networking market has fallen, brightsolid’s $42m purchase earlier this month of Friends Reunited from ITV Plc stands as the largest deal in the sector so far in 2009. The price is a mere 5% of the value of the largest social networking acquisition in 2008, which was AOL’s $850m all-cash pickup of Bebo. (We would also add that the sale of Friends Reunited netted ITV just one-fifth the amount it originally paid for the property in 2005.) On top of the notably smaller transactions, deal flow so far this year has been characterized by relatively paltry valuations. Friends Reunited garnered just 1.6 times trailing sales, compared to the estimated 42 times trailing revenue that Bebo got from AOL. Add all that together and it’s pretty clear that the bubble of social networking M&A has popped. In the space so far this year, we tally just 28 deals worth a total of $55.5m, compared to 53 transactions valued at more than $1.3bn in 2008.
As an aside, we would note that the acquisitions of Friends Reunited and Bebo have more in common than just ranking as the largest deals of their respective calendar years. The stalking horse bidder for Friends Reunited, Peter Dubens through his investment vehicle Oakley Capital Private Equity, has a close business relationship with Bebo founder Michael Birch. Dubens and Birch formed PROfounders Capital earlier this year under Dubens’ Oakley Capital umbrella. Oakley Capital reportedly offered to buy Friends Reunited for $25m, but declined to bump up its bid above even one times sales. Without reading too much into that, we might be tempted to conclude that except for Facebook, the little value that remains in most social networks is likely to only decline.