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.

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.

Hosters lose another telco acquirer

Contact: Ben Kolada

In the latest billion-dollar-plus telco transaction, Level 3 Communications has announced that it is acquiring Global Crossing in an all-stock deal worth $1.9bn. (The actual price of the acquisition – the largest we’ve recorded for Level 3 – is closer to $3bn when Global Crossing’s debt is included.) And while the deal impacts the telecom industry by bringing together two well-known fiber operators, in a way it more significantly impacts the hosting and colocation markets by removing yet another potential telco buyer. (We’ll have a full report on Level 3 buying Global Crossing in tonight’s Daily 451.)

Earlier rumors in the hosting and colocation industries had Level 3 as a potential acquirer, perhaps picking up CDN vendor Limelight Networks or hosting company Internap Network Services. These rumors were made more convincing by the growing trend of telcos buying into hosting and colocation. But in their conference call discussing the transaction, executives at Level 3 and Global Crossing put those rumors to rest, saying they don’t expect to announce another acquisition anytime soon. Further distancing Level 3 from the hosting M&A game is the fact that the company doesn’t appear to be too interested in hosting or datacenter services at all, since it chose a target that generates only 5% of its total revenue from these segments.

We previously noted that CenturyLink is likely out of the market as well, following its purchase of Qwest Communications for an enterprise value of $22.4bn, which saddled the company with a mountain of debt (the deal closed April 1). Last year, CenturyLink and Qwest held an aggregate $19bn in debt; that’s nearly equal to the revenue the two companies generated over the same period. Further, that debt load is more than five times the combined company’s free cash flow. Debt repayment obligations will likely put a halt to CenturyLink’s steady M&A activity, thereby forcing the company to focus on organic growth. With CenturyLink/Qwest and now Level 3 focused on integration, we expect that acquisition speculation following the next telco-hosting deal will be somewhat tempered.

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.

Internet infrastructure in Q3: a dip in deal volume

Contact: Ben Kolada

In the just-closed quarter, we noticed a slight dip in the number of announced deals. In fact, the deal volume has continued its slide ever since the industry hit its peak in the first quarter of 2010. That’s not to say that our readers should make like Equinix’s investors and run for the exit. True, deal volume did slide downward, but the brand names of the Internet infrastructure industry continued to make long-term investments.

The total number of transactions announced in the third quarter declined 13.5% from the second quarter and 27.3% from the first quarter of the year. However, we must note that Q1 deal volume was, in fact, artificially inflated somewhat as some deals that were put on hold during the worst part of the recession in 2009 were finally closed in Q4 2009 and the beginning of 2010 due to renewed optimism in the economy and the ability to once again access capital at reasonable rates.

Overall, the number of transactions is up year over year, with Q3 2010 yielding 23% more transactions than the year-ago period. In fact, the total number of deals announced in the first three quarters of this year has already topped the full-year total for 2009. Furthermore, well-established names in the Internet infrastructure sector, including Digital Realty Trust, Limelight Networks and TeleCity on the industry side and GI Partners, Sequoia Capital and Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe on the investment side, just to name a few, came to the table in the third quarter. We’ll take a deeper look at Q3 deal volume in a report that will be included in tonight’s Daily 451 sendout.

Recent quarterly deal flow

Period Number of transactions Percent change from previous quarter
Q1 2009 12
Q2 2009 17 42%
Q3 2009 26 53%
Q4 2009 28 8%
Q1 2010 44 57%
Q2 2010 38 -14%
Q3 2010 32 -16%

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase, Tier1 Research

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.