Who Will Buy Become.com?

| About: Conversant, Inc. (CNVR)

Yahoo! has Yahoo! Shopping.
Google has Google Product Search.
Microsoft has a hodgepodge of partners/in-house clients for MSN Shopping and now owns Jellyfish.
Ask [IAC] has Pronto.
Experian Interactive has PriceGrabber.
eBay has Shopping.com.
EW Scripps has Shopzilla.
Providence Equity Partners owns a chunk of NexTag which continues to kick ass for most merchants I talk with.
ValueClick (VCLK) has PriceRunner and Smarter.
Accoona even is in on the game with Buyer’s Edge.

So who is left to buy Become?

Here are three possibilities:
1. One of the other shopping engines
I don’t see this one happening as I don’t think there’s a good fit technologically or culturally, but here’s why it could. Right now the shopping engines are getting squeezed by Google, and this pressure will only get worse. Google is going to push Google Base/Google Product Search more heavily. It is definitely going to kill (and in some cases already has killed) the shopping engines’ organic rankings because of AdSense's heavy landing pages, and as Google Checkout badges become even more prevalent and Google Adwords’ Quality Score continues to clamp down on poor landing pages, the shopping engines will have to spend more money to compete. All bad news.

By acquiring Become, the suitor gets a cash flow positive business, good technology (some smart developers), and a couple million more page views a month. Good developers are hard to find these days and a couple million page views can be very valuable in such a strong online advertising market.

2. Transcosmos
Become is a small piece of Transcosmos’ ‘Marketing Chain Management on the Web’ strategy (see page 12 of 40) which includes investments/JVs with Optimost, Ask.jp, DoubleClick, Neilsen/Netratings, IVP (a provider of ecommerce services). Become already powers Ask.jp’s shopping search site. I’m sure there are deeper synergies to be had with the rest of the portfolio.

3. Advertising.com/AOL
AOL outsources most of AOL Shopping to PriceGrabber. AOL could knock out a middle man and potentially make more money (get the whole click fee vs. 70% of the click fee) through running its own shopping engine. Or if AOL Shopping doesn’t want it, sister company Advertising.com could pick it up and add Become as another attractive advertising solution. Advertising.com currently covers: display, search - both paid and organic, affiliate, behavioral, lead gen, promotions, and video.

Why not shopping search? Picking up a couple million page views a month could be extremely attractive to the ad network. If not Advertising.com/AOL, there are a number of other ad networks out there who could find Become attractive: Specific and Tribal Fusion come to mind. I don’t think ValueClick is going to be gobbling up another shopping engine tomorrow, but they could also be a suitor in the future. The online ad networks have become very good at making online buys as efficient as possible. I like the idea of them bringing increased efficiency to the shopping engines.

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