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By Thomas Rasmussen

In a clear sign that mobile advertising has grown up, Google (GOOG) spent a whopping $750m in stock on Monday to pick up San Mateo, California-based AdMob in what we hear was a contested process. This transaction goes a long way toward securing control of mobile display advertising for Google and comes just days after the launch of Android 2.0.

Although we’ve been projecting dealmaking in the mobile advertising market for quite some time, we’re nonetheless floored by the rich valuation for AdMob, a three-year-old startup that’s raised just shy of $50m. We estimate that the 140-person firm pulled in about $20m in gross revenue in 2008 and was on track to double that figure this year (we surmise that this translates to roughly $20m on a net revenue basis).

The double-digit valuation for AdMob reminds us more than a little bit of the high-multiple online advertising deals that we saw in 2007. Viewed in that context, Google’s purchase of AdMob stands as the third-largest ‘new media’ advertising purchase since 2002. Of course, like many of those transactions, this was not based on revenue, but instead on technology and market extension, which is consistent with Google’s strategy of acquiring big into core adjacencies.

Looking forward, AdMob’s top-dollar exit is sure to have a number of rival mobile advertising startups excited. One competitor that’s preparing to raise an additional sizable round of funding quipped at the near-perfect timing of this transaction. This is an industry that has seen its ups and downs over the past few years. When we first wrote about AdMob back in May it was in the backdrop of fire sales and failed rounds of funding. If nothing else, this deal will dramatically change that.

Microsoft (MSFT) has been actively playing catch-up to Google in advertising and search, and is sure to follow it onto the mobile device. As are many other niche advertising shoppers such as Yahoo (YHOO), Nokia (NOK), AdKnowledge, Adobe-Omniture (ADBE) (OMTR) and traditional media conglomerates such as Cox. AOL (TWX) has already made its move, reaching for Third Screen Media two years ago. (We would note that AOL’s $105m purchase of Third Screen is a rare case of that company actually being ahead of the market.)

Startups that could benefit from this increasing focus on the sector include AdMarvel, Amobee, InMobi, and Velti’s Ad Infuse. However, we suspect that some of the major advances – and consequently the most promising targets – are likely to come from players that are just now getting started, with fresh and profitable approaches to location-based mobile advertising.

Some recent mobile advertising deals

Date announced Acquirer Target Deal value Target TTM revenue
November 9, 2009 Google AdMob $750m $20m*
September 14, 2009 Nokia Acuity Mobile Not disclosed Not disclosed
August 27, 2009 AdMob AdWhirl Not disclosed Not disclosed
May 21, 2009 Limelight Networks Kiptronic $1m $2m*
May 12, 2009 Velti Ad Infuse <$1m* $1.3m*
March 11, 2008 Qualcomm Xiam Technologies $32m Not disclosed
August 21, 2007 Yahoo Actionality Not disclosed Not disclosed
May 15, 2007 AOL Third Screen Media $105m $3m*

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *451 Group estimate

Source: Mobile Advertising - Is It Back?