About time for web portal dealmaking
About time for Web portal dealmaking
February 21, 2005
The New York Times' acquisition of About.com could spark more Internet acquisitions.
New York Times Co.'s $410 million acquisition of About.com from Primedia Inc. should continue to fan the flames of consolidation in the rapidly maturing Internet sector.
"What you're seeing is the more traditional publishing media companies realizing their advertising revenues are barely growing, if at all," said Richard Fetyko, research analyst with Merriman Curhan Ford & Co. "A similar type of business online grew as a whole 30% year-over-year in 2004."
About.com was one of the last of the so-called major portals still left on the market and the third to be snatched up within the past year. In March 2004, search engine Ask Jeeves Inc.of Emeryville, Calif., acquired the Excite portal as part of its $343 million acquisition of Interactive Search Holdings Inc.
And in August 2004, South Korean portal Daum Communications Corp.spent $95.5 million for the Lycos portal that was owned by Spanish Internet company Terra Lycos SA.
Fetyko said with many of the all-encompassing portals off the market, smaller niche sites will begin to receive more attention from both traditional and online companies. He mentioned companies such as women's media firm iVillage Inc.of New York, gay and lesbian Web site PlanetOut Inc. of San Francisco and technology-centric CNET Networks Inc. of San Francisco as potential acquisition targets.
What makes the sites attractive is the traffic they bring. According to comScore Media Metrix, iVillage had 19 million unique visitors in January, making it the 26th most popular online destination in the U.S. CNET Networks was the 13th most popular with 28.5 million unique visitors. PlanetOut drew 1.1 million unique visitors, though it was not among the top 50 properties. About.com's site attracted 37.9 million visitors in January, the eighth highest total.
"These aren't startups with ideas. These are profitable companies with an operational track record," Fetyko said. "Building a Web site is not that difficult these days, but to attract the audience and to build a recurring audience on a monthly basis takes a lot of time and marketing, and these companies have already gone through that stage."
Fetyko said in addition to traditional media companies, Time Warner Inc.'s America Online Inc. unit, based in Dulles, Va., could be looking to add to its stable of properties. He also said broadcasting giant Viacom Inc. of New York could look to build on its $46.4 million acquisition of sports Web site Sportsline.com Inc. in August 2004.
The acquisition of About.com also may have established a floor for other Internet properties, said Mark Mahaney, research analyst with American Technology Researchin San Francisco. Based on New York Times Co. projections, the $410 million purchase price reflects a multiple of 23 times 2005 Ebitda.
"I don't necessarily think it means there's a greater chance of companies being in play," he said. "But if the New York Times is willing to pay 23 times Ebitda, that tells me 20 times Ebitda may be a reasonable floor for some of these other plays."
Kevin Lee, CEO of Did-It.com, a search engine marketing firm, said portals themselves will be acquisitive in the hopes of attracting more "eyeballs" to their sites. He noted there were rumors last week that Yahoo! Inc.was in talks to buy a stake in Indian portal Indiatimes, the internet business of India media house Bennett Coleman and Co. Ltd.
"The best way to really make money off the eyeballs is to own them," Lee said.
Among other recent deals in the Internet sector, Dow Jones & Co. of New York in January closed its $519 million deal for San Francisco-based MarketWatch Inc. Also in January, The Washington Post Co. acquired online magazine Slate.com from Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., for undisclosed terms.
Also in January, business Web site TheStreet.com Inc. of New York said it hiredAllen & Co.of New York to explore its strategic options.
"Traditional offline media companies know how to sell ads, but don't have enough places to put the ads where they will be seen by people in their relevant niche," said Ken Marlin, founder of Marlin & Associates, a New York-based investment banking boutique focuesd on technology and media companies. "They need to own some more companies that are among the top two or three properties in a niche."