Opera’s cautious move into video optimization

Contact: Ben Kolada

Coinciding with its fourth-quarter earnings release, mobile Web developer Opera Software has announced the acquisition of mobile video optimization startup Skyfire Labs for $50m in cash and stock, with an earnout potentially tripling that price. The deal is a strategic combination – bringing together Skyfire’s carrier-focused mobile video optimization offerings with Opera’s mobile browser products – but its conservative structure suggests that Opera isn’t yet confident enough to put all of its eggs into the video optimization market.

Using an enterprise value of $50m (Skyfire had $8m cash on its balance sheet), the purchase – Opera’s largest ever – is valued at 12.2x trailing revenue. However, if Skyfire’s sales live up to expectations, its price-to-projected revenue valuation would be a more palatable 2.9x. Architect Partners, which helped Skyfire raise its $8m series C round, advised the company on its sale. Skyfire had raised $41m in venture capital. (We’ve made our M&A KnowledgeBase record on the transaction, which includes full financial details and round-by-round funding information, freely available here.)

Besides the $50m upfront payment, Opera is on the hook for an earnout of up to $105m in cash and stock. We’d note that although Opera also just announced a $100m credit facility, it could elect to pay $79m of the earnout in stock.

Opera is no stranger to earnouts, using them in all six deals we’ve recorded for the company, but the sheer size of this earnout suggests that the company isn’t fully confident in the video optimization market’s potential. And rightfully so – nearly every video optimization vendor we know of has seen total revenue flatten over the past few years, and many are anxiously seeking exits. (For a longer report on the mobile video optimization market, click here.)

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No recession for mobile advertising M&A

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

Following Google’s purchase of AdMob in November, we predicted a resurgence in mobile advertising M&A. That’s just what has happened and, we believe, the consolidation is far from having run its course. Apple, which we understand was also vying for AdMob, acquired Quattro Wireless for an estimated $275m at the beginning of the year. At approximately $15m in estimated net revenue, the deal was about as pricey as Google’s shopping trip for its own mobile advertising startup. And just last week, Norwegian company Opera Software stepped into the market as well, acquiring AdMarvel for $8m plus a $15m earnout. We understand that San Mateo, California-based AdMarvel, which is running at an estimated $3m in annual net sales, had been looking to raise money when potential investor Opera suggested an outright acquisition instead.

These transactions underscore the fact that mobile advertising will play a decisive role in shaping the mobile communications business in the coming years. For instance, vendors can now use advertising to offset the costs of providing services (most notably, turn-by-turn directions) that were formerly covered by subscription fees. Just last week, Nokia matched Google’s move from last year by offering free turn-by-turn directions on all of its smartphones. Navigation is only the beginning for ad-based services as mobile devices get more powerful and smarter through localization and personal preferences.

While traditional startups such as Amobee will continue to see interest from players wanting a presence in the space, we believe the next company that could enjoy a high-value exit like AdMob or Quattro will come from the ranks that offer unique location-based mobile advertising such as 1020 Placecast. The San Francisco-based firm, which has raised an estimated $9m in two rounds, is a strategic partner of Nokia’s NavTeq. As such, we would not be surprised to see Nokia follow the lead of its neighbor Opera by reaching across the Atlantic to secure 1020 Placecast for itself.