Friday, May 18, 2007

Only a Microsoft could afford aQuantive

As I was saying yesterday, we should still expect the most valuable ad technology companies to land with the the major online media properties. In case you haven't heard yet, Microsoft announced early this morning that it is buying aQuantive for $6 billion, paying an 85 percent premium for the privilege, and paying twice as much for the company as Google paid for DoubleClick. Though I'm not sure I ever saw it printed, rumors have been circulating for about a month that Microsoft would buy aQuantive, the best way, other than whining about the Google/DoubleClick deal, for Microsoft to fight back against its archrival. It probably also got the better company. What has always been impressive about aQuantive is how it managed its way deftly through the dot-com bust, always steadfastly believing that in the end, strong analytics capabilities and a focus on ROI would win over clients. As for the price, $6 billion is a lot of money, but Microsoft can afford it, especially when one considers what is at stake: Microsoft has had its problems in competing against Google and Yahoo in online advertising, and there just aren't many ad technology companies still on the market that can hold up to aQuantive. It was time for Microsoft to do something dramatic. But let's take a look back at WPP's agreement yesterday to buy 24/7 Real Media for a paltry $649 million—WPP's valuation is just under $19 billion; Microsoft's is almost $300 billion. So, though I'm sure that WPP, and its rivals, may have been eyeing aQuantive (which also, of course, owns the digital agency Avenue A/Razorfish), the value of the company's ad technology simply put it out of their league. One last thought: isn't it somehow a sign of the times, that this flurry of ad technology acquisitions occurred during the same week that the TV networks held their upfront presentations?

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