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.

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.

Not ad(d)ing up

-Email Thomas Rasmussen

Contrary to our pronouncement last year, the online advertising industry is in a tough spot at the moment. Venture funding for these companies has been shut off as the slumping demand for Web-based advertising has hit the sector harder than it anticipated. (At least it’s not as bad as the regular advertising market. As one VC quipped recently, “While the online ad market has caught a cold, the offline ad market has caught pneumonia.”) Still, the decline in the space has created numerous opportunities for buyers looking to pick up scraps.

One such company having a field day in the current environment is Adknowledge. Just this week, the company picked up the advertising business of struggling MIVA for the bargain price of $11.6m. The division has estimated trailing 12-month revenue of about $75m, down sharply from $100m a year ago. The acquisition came after Adknowledge tucked in two small social networking ad networks for less than $2m, much less than the more than $4m the two raised in venture capital. Furthermore, Adknowledge, which has raised an estimated $45m, tells us that it is still shopping.

Of course, it’s not all gloom and doom for the online ad market. One area where there’s actual growth – and at least the promise of rising valuations – is in online video advertising. VCs have put hundreds of millions of dollars into this sector. Their bet: More Web surfers will increasingly look to online videos for information and entertainment. Granted, it’s still a small space. (Consider the fact that YouTube probably contributed only a few hundred million dollars of revenue to Google’s total revenue of $21.8bn in 2008.) Still, the promise is there. Also encouraging VCs in this market is that the online ad giants (Google, Microsoft, AOL and so on) may well need to go shopping to get video ad technology. We recently published a more-thorough report on that, matching potential buyers and sellers.

Online video: boom and bust

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

The over-hyped world of online video is going through massive turmoil at the moment. While most investors and companies agree that online video is likely the future of broadcasting, no one has been able to make any money from it so far. And it’s likely to get even harder due to tighter venture funding, the closed IPO window and next-generation Web 2.0 entrants such as Hulu and even Apple’s iTunes. These factors have left the online video players scrambling toward any exit, no matter how cheap.

Consider the case of CinemaNow, which was picked up by Sonic Solutions for a mere $3m last month. The portal never managed to turn a profit and had estimated revenue of less than $4m. Yet it secured five rounds of funding (totaling more than $40m) and brokered partnerships with major studios, VCs and strategic investors. When CinemaNow went to investors begging for another round a few months ago, it found that there was no money to be had and a quick exit became the only alternative. That’s a common occurrence these days, and may well have driven rival MovieLink to sell for a paltry $6.6m to Blockbuster last year. (Expect more of these types of deals next year. According to corporate development executives who completed our annual M&A outlook survey, lack of access to VC will be the major catalyst for deal flow in 2009.)

If this sounds eerily familiar, it’s because a similar situation played out during the music industry’s awkward and reluctant switch to digital a few years ago. Several startups, even major ones backed by large studios, tried to become the distributor of choice. Yet, many of those went away in scrap sales or had the plug pulled on them (Viacom’s Urge, Napster and Yahoo’s music service, to name just a few high-profile failures). We’re now left with just a handful of dominant distributors: iTunes, RealNetworks’ Rhapsody, Amazon and, to an increasing extent, MySpace’s heavily funded music effort. Many of these companies are likely to also dominate online video. In fact, add in Google and Microsoft, and you have a list of the companies that are likely to be buyers for the few remaining online video startups.

Recent online video M&A

Year Number of deals
2008 12
2007 10
2006 5

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Steady flow of online video deals

Emerging online video markets have been keeping investors and acquirers busy, with Google making the latest move through its recent purchase of tiny startup Omnisio. The California-based startup, which received seed funding from Y Combinator, launched in March and offers an online video editing widget that enables users to slice and mash existing online videos, add text and audio commentary and create proprietary slideshow presentations. Google plans to integrate Omnisio’s technology and its three Australian ex-pat founders into its YouTube platform.

In the past two years, companies have spent more than $7bn on more than 50 deals in the (broadly defined) online video space. The largest of these was Google’s purchase of YouTube for $1.65bn in October 2006. Rival Yahoo has also been active. It picked up video sharing site Jumpcut two years ago, as well spending $160m for video distribution platform Maven Networks earlier this year and a total bill of nearly $1bn for related advertising networks BlueLithium and Right Media in 2007.

Meanwhile, traditional media bigwigs are also banking on online video and advertising markets. In March, News Corp and NBC launched their $100m joint TV venture, Hulu, just month after picking up Chinese startup Mojiti, which serves as the TV streaming platform for Hulu. Although professional video streaming services such as Hulu are expected to be able to secure ad dollars quicker than user-generated video sites, it’s still early in that market.

One market where we see tremendous opportunity is for ad-based mobile services. Consider nine-year-old MobiTV, which has been streaming to mobile devices since 2003. Operating on a subscription-based revenue model, MobiTV claims profitability. Last year, the company received $100m in its latest round of VC funding, and is actively looking to use that cash to buy its own advertising network. In this crowded and bustling marketplace, the top Internet and media behemoths would do well to pay attention to well-footed upstarts like MobiTV.

Selected online video deals

Date announced Acquirer Target Deal value
July 30, 2008 Google Omnisio $15m (reported)
Feb. 12, 2008 Yahoo Maven Networks $160m
Sept. 12, 2007 Hulu Mojiti not disclosed
Oct. 9, 2006 Google YouTube $1.65bn
June 27, 2006 Yahoo Jumpcut not disclosed

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