Internet Brands, Inc. F1Q08 (Qtr End 03/31/2008) Earnings Call Transcript

 |  About: Internet Brands (INET)
by: SA Transcripts

Internet Brands, Inc. (INET) F1Q08 Earnings Call May 5, 2008 5:00 PM ET


Welcome to the Internet Brands first quarter 2008 results conference call. (Operator Instructions) I would now like to turn the conference over to your host Andrew Greenebaum.

Andrew Greenbaum

Welcome to Internet Brands first quarter fiscal 2008 conference call. On the call today is Bob Brisco, Chief Executive Officer and Alex Hansen, Chief Financial Officer.

By now everyone should have had access to the first quarter fiscal 2008 earnings release, which went out today at approximately 4:00 pm Eastern Time. If you’ve not received your release, it’s available on the Investor Relations portion of Internet Brands website at by clicking on the investor stem. This call is being webcast and it is available for replay.

Before we begin today, we’d like to remind everyone that the prepared remarks contain forward-looking statements. Management may make additional forward-looking statements in response to your questions. These statements do not guarantee future performance and therefore undue reliance should not be placed on them.

We refer all of you to the risk factors contained in Internet Brands most recent Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2007 as filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, for a more detailed discussion of the factors which could cause actual results to differ materially from those projected in any forward-looking statement.

Internet Brands assumes no obligation to revise any forward-looking projection that may be made in today’s release or call.

With that I’d like to turn the call over to Bob Brisco.

Bob Brisco

We’re pleased to be sharing more good news with you. We had a good first quarter and are solidly on track for the full year. Before reviewing the financial numbers, I want to highlight our strong progress with both consumers and advertisers.

With consumers we continue to rapidly build scale as a result of both organic growth and acquisition, our number of unique visitor climbed from 27 million in December to 34 million in March, representing a 25% sequential gain. Over the same period our page views have grown from 345 million to 435 million, a 26% sequential gain.

In terms of audience growth we’re running ahead of our plans. We’re building a rapidly growing, extremely targeted, and high valued set of consumer websites. We now operate 180 total websites and 69 principle websites, which we define as attracting more than 100,000 unique visitors per month.

The advertiser side of our consumer internet business is also doing very well. While our e-commerce revenues remain quite soft as a result of the economy, our advertising revenues are growing very quickly.

In the automotive category our ad revenues grew year-over-year by 36% and travel and leisure by 90% and at home by several hundred percent. We are very confident in our ability to continue to increase ad revenues. Across our web sites we’re seeing continued ad strength in April.

I want to update you on our acquisition strategy. We’re very bullish on our recent acquisitions and our pipeline is very strong. As a result of sellers concerns about the economy, we’re seeing more attractive acquisition prices than ever before.

Today we are announcing two acquisitions. The first is the network of websites. This network is by far the leader in summer camps for the US and Canada. If you’re a parent and need to find a summer camp for your children, the value of this website will be immediately obvious to you.

The network consists of more than 20 sites, including MySummerCamps,, and We will manage this business as part of our travel lodging division which included property such as and

The second acquisition is, a leading credit care comparison site. This site is growing very quickly and the credit card market is a very large one. We will manage this site in our home finance division, which includes and websites.

Now turning to the licensing portion of our revenue, which represents roughly 35% of our total. This business is doing very well. Auto data, our automated application licensing business had another strong quarter and the customer pipeline remains very strong. The Bulletin, which we acquired in June of last year, is also performing quite well. We released a major upgrade, The Bulletin 3.7 in April.

Our release includes a substantial set of social networking features and with this release we’ve also announced price increases.

Alex Hansen will now discuss our first quarter financial results in some more detail, as well as guidance for our full year of 2008.

Alexander Hansen

Total revenues for the first quarter increased 30% versus the same period last year. The increase in revenues, which will significantly help in acquisitions, was primarily driven by increases in traffic and monetization of our websites and by growth in our licensing segment.

Consumer internet division revenues represented 65% of total first quarter revenues, increased by 14% in the first quarter 2008 over the prior year period. Within the first quarter, advertising revenue was weaker than expected in January over pretty significantly throughout February and March, a trend which has continued into the second quarter.

Looking at year-over-year trends, the advertising spend from automotive dealers and manufacturers continued to be challenged, reflecting the continued softness in the automotive industry. More than offsetting this was strong advertising revenue growth within our automotive enthusiast, travel and leisure and home and apartment sites.

As a result of the acquisitions, the organic growth in traffic, and the increasing effect of monetization of our websites, automotive advertising revenue continues to grow, up 36% in the first quarter 2008 over the prior year.

Advertising revenue from our travel and leisure sites grew 90% in the first quarter 2008 over the prior year. Advertising revenue from our home related websites has increased by several hundred percent over the same period.

License and division revenues, which represented 35% of total first quarter revenues, increased 80% in the first quarter of 2008 compared to the prior year period. The increase in the licensing division revenue was driven by continued organic growth through the successful development of new client accounts and the sale of additional services to existing client accounts, but also by the acquisition of Joseph Enterprises in June of 2007.

In addition, our licensing divisions’ growth includes a $1.1 million benefit from certain revenue recognized within our auto data business, upon the accelerated completion of a project.

Now turning to expenses, total costs in operating expenses for the quarter increased to 38% over the first quarter of 2007. Excluding soft based count expense and also depreciation and amortization expense, total expenses grew at a 28% rate, which is slightly less than our revenue growth.

Included in operating expenses for the first quarter was higher than anticipate bad debt expense, resulting from the write down of uncollectable receivables. We believe this was a conservative stance on our part and does not represent a trend. Therefore on a normalized basis, the cost and operating expenses grew at a 25% rate, which compares to the 30% revenue growth rate.

We have tremendous capacity on your platform to support additional websites and existing new verticals. As we continue to build and acquire additional websites and verticals, we believe we will leverage our shared resources across our platform to further reduce expenses and enhance profitability.

Turning to measures of profitability, net income attributable to common shareholders for the first quarter of 2008 was $3 million or $0.07 per diluted share, which compares to $1.4 million or $0.07 per diluted counted share in the prior year period.

Adjusted EBITDA, which we define as earnings before investment income, income taxes, depreciation and amortization and excluding stock-based compensation, increased 35% to $7.9 million in the first quarter of 2008 over the prior year period.

Turning to the balance sheet, we entered the first quarter of 2008 with $76.9 billion in cash and investments and had no debt. For the first quarter we completed 12 acquisitions in the consumer internet segment, for an aggregate purchase price of $23.3 million. Following our quarter end we completed four additional acquisitions within the consumer internet segment for an aggregate purchase price of $12.2 million.

Net cash provided by operating activities in the first quarter was $5.5 million compared to $11 million in the prior year period. The variance primarily reflects the change in working capital requirements due to our significant growth.

Now turning to guidance, for the second quarter of 2008 we expect total revenues and adjusted EBITDA to be comparable to those we achieved in the first quarter of 2008 or slightly better. For the full year of 2008 we continue to expect revenues to be in the range of $100 to $110 million and adjusted EBITDA to be in the range of $32 to $36 million. This guidance includes the affect of acquisitions.

That concludes our prepared remarks. Bob and I are now ready to answer any questions.

Question-and-Answer Session


(Operator Instructions) Your first question comes from Youssef Squali - Jefferies & Co.

Youssef Squali - Jefferies & Co.

If I look at your gross margins there was a huge jump there, something like a 600 basis point increase. Sequentially if you look at your G&A there was also about a 400 basis point increase. Did you reclassify your costs, or what’s going on there?

Alexander Hansen

We did not reclassify costs in the period. During the period, the development costs, which are related to our licensing revenue, were in line with the revenue. The development costs grew in line with the revenue. Some of our marketing costs that are related to filling plants specific needs, that’s tied into the e-commerce business, also declined in line with the revenue decline there.

Looking at the growth in the G&A, the primary factor, as we indicated, is we had an increase in some bad debt expenses tied into the write off of some uncollectable accounts during the period. We also had some other expense related to [inaudible] and this one had to do with the core company.

Youssef Squali - Jefferies & Co.

So on the gross margin, is Q1, the level of gross margin sustainable in Q2 and beyond? Then can you quantify the bad debt expense that you took in Q1?

Alexander Hansen

In terms of the gross margin, yes, the components of the costs are moving in line with the revenue and we expect that they will continue to do so. To talk a bit more about the bad debt expense, there were really two components: one was there was some clean up bad, some receivables that we had during the period, we took a conservative approach; there was some growth in the aging, which there was some timing differences and that’s normal. The other issue is that comparing it to the prior period in 2007 in bad debt we had a net benefit, because of some collections experience at that time, so you’re seeing the swing between those numbers.

Bob Brisco

Let me just add, part of the dynamic you’re seeing there is the mixed shift towards higher margin, pure play advertising driven business lines as a percent of total revenue. We get our operating average from that.

Youssef Squali - Jefferies & Co.

That’s on the gross margin side, right?

Bob Brisco

That’s what I’m talking about.

Youssef Squali - Jefferies & Co.

So on G&A, as we look at that number going forward, I’m just trying to figure out how much of it is recurring, because I think you said something to the effect that it is not a beginning of a trend, it’s a long time. I’m trying to see just how we should be thinking about it going forward.

Alexander Hansen

I think that you would, if you consider the fact of the bad debt expense and factor that out, we expect going forward that the G&A will be in line with what you’ve seen in the past.

Youssef Squali - Jefferies & Co.

If I look at growth and unique visitors and in page views unique were up 68% year-on-year, page views are up 89% year-on-year. If I look at growth in revenues, it’s up about 30%, I know it’s not one to one, but just at some point as you improve your monetization, as you eliminate some of the traffic that just doesn’t convert, the two ought to convert to closer numbers.

How should we be thinking about the growth rate going forward considering how fast your unique and your page views are growing? Does it make sense to assume that if you maintain a north of 40% or 50% that your growth rate could actually accelerate as you improve on your monetization, just on the advertising side?

Bob Brisco

We remain under monetized relative to the potential on revenue per paid view basis, one ECPN basis, on many of the websites that we’re operating, especially the ones that we’ve acquired more recently. We think there is definitely room for revenue acceleration as we strengthen the monetization on those websites.

I will note that there, you said a lot of mix issues in terms of differences in yield from high value sites to more mid or low value sites. We’ve got some mix issues going on inside of that, but generally your proposition that there’s a lot of room for upside and monetization on this level of traffic is absolutely right.


Your next question comes from Yun Kim - Pacific Growth Equities.

Yun Kim - Pacific Growth Equities

First of all, can you just talk about the automotive business and what you’re seeing out there in the current quarter? I know that Q2 is typically the seasonally strongest, but I’m hearing a lot of bad news out there and good news. Also, at least qualitatively, how much of your revenue maybe was driven by auto vertical in the quarter?

Bob Brisco

On the first part automotive has remained soft as we indicated in our remarks. We are moving into, as you observed, the stronger portion of the year for automotive sales and automotive dealers. We remain cautious given the sector outlook to not plan too aggressively our outlook going forward.

Regarding the percentages of our business, the second part of you question, that comes from the various verticals, that’s not guidance that we’ve given out. What is fair to say, you can see from the growth rates and advertising that we quoted, 90% in the travel category and several hundred percent in the home category. The mix is shifting very quick quarter-to-quarter and for the diversification of the company’s consumer internet revenue divisions, it’s happening at a very rapid rate.

Yun Kim - Pacific Growth Equities

Can you just talk about, obviously you have been doing a lot of acquisitions lately, but I’m just wondering if you can talk about performance of past acquisitions that have been with the company for at least one year.

At least qualitatively, can you say that the overall performance of these acquired websites continue to show solid revenue without growth after one year, or would you say that most of the growth comes from when you first apply your monetization and generally the secret sauce that you have, but the growth slows down quickly after one year. I’m just trying to get the feel for how some of these acquisitions are doing currently.

Bob Brisco

Sure, so we’ve done historical analysis on how the acquisitions have been performing and the short answer is very well. 20% revenue growth in the first year is what we’ve typically seen and what we’ve experienced. We tend to budget less of that, just to be conservative, more in the middle teens range. As the deals have been maturing we’ve seen that same type of performance in that range, from the high teens 20%.

When we acquire sites, to your question about how quickly do we capture the economic benefits, we quickly capture most if not all of the cost benefits; however, on the revenue side, that’s not true.

In fact, I might even guide you to the opposite which is we’re typically able to pick up a bit of revenue lift immediately, but a lot of the monetization occurs over time as we bring it into our network. We categorize the inventory, tag it up, put it in the packages, bring it to market, sell it to advertisers and upfront, bring on other monetization lines that weren’t on that site before, but we have to initiate those partnerships, yield optimize them on the website, that sort of thing.

That’s very much a work in progress with a lot of upside. I would generally guide that I think we’ve got three, four, five years of very strong revenue growth on the properties we’ve acquired.

What I’d drive you to is often the revenue per page view is ½ to 1/3 of what we think it can become. So when you start applying 20% growth rate or maybe better, over time to that, you can see it takes you quite a few years to work into where you think the ultimate potential is on the web traffic.

Yun Kim - Pacific Growth Equities

Alex, just a question regarding that $1.1 million in additional license revenue for the quarter: Was this expected or was this something that came in unexpectedly, because that wasn’t the revenue in this business that’s recognized on a term basis, so what triggered the immediate recognition of $1.1 million in the quarter?

Alexander Hansen

It was expected. It was a project that our auto debt client had that completed early in their 400 gap; for gap we had to recognize the revenue at that point.

Yun Kim - Pacific Growth Equities

Was this a consulting project then, is that in those quote unquote “license revenue”?

Bob Brisco

This was work in our automotive data division with one of the large OEMs and it was just work that got done a bit early and we collected all of it. We were able to have it in the quarter and it was in the plan. The only reason we’re breaking it out is it was a little larger piece than others.

This is happening all the time that we’re finishing projects either generally early or on time and recognizing them as they complete. There’s a little bit of this in every quarter.

Auto data is a little bit chunky and there is big OEM projects that can run into that scale or greater. So, we wanted to split that out for you, but I think in future quarters, I’m not necessarily saying the next one or the one after, but there may be other good positive developments around some chunky revenue coming in on the manufacturers’ side.

That pipeline is very good and the average size of our contract is growing, so it’s a good problem to have. That’s a big revenue piece that’s coming in overtime.

Yun Kim - Pacific Growth Equities

Do you think that additional $21 million added to the gross margin improvement or that has not much affect on that?

Alexander Hansen

It didn’t help on the gross margin as well as on the EBITDA line. We took a look at what its impact was and considered its benefit to the positive side, but also considering some of the down side issues that we had, such as the bad debt expense net mapped, we came in at the high end of the EBITDA guidance.


Your next question comes from Christa Quarles - Thomas Weisel Partners.

Christa Quarles - Thomas Weisel Partners

As you’re looking at say creditor web, how do you see yourselves in the larger picture given that there are companies, certainly, that focus entirely for the one to one credit cards? Where do you see yourself developing that market versus where you clearly have dominance in a subset like auto enthusiasts? That’s the first question and then on the $1.1 million, not to be a bit hoarse, but was there a greater profitability contribution on that or is that just as a typical margin of what you normally see?

Bob Brisco

On the auto data piece of business, yes a little bit higher than average, the way that flowed through on the books. As Alex mentioned, we put all things considered in and if you take out all of the one time in the quarter, where were we and we came up still at the high end of the guidance. I hope that helps. With that and the bad debt piece, that will give you a pretty close road map, I think, of how to think about that piece.

Philosophically, on your question about, you really asked me about scale in some of these businesses. We’re interested in the credit piece because when we looked at out account base, we’re doing very well with mortgage CPC revenue right now on and mortgage 101, which we acquired in the second half of the year.

In speaking of those accounts, obviously the banks and some of the credit issuers, they were very interested in inventory we might have in this area as well for credit card applications; so, we were able to do a transaction that we thought was a strong property, it’s in the top four or five in terms of scale on the internet for credit cards it ranked first I believe on credit card offers on Google and business credit cards and some other terms.

It has certainly acceptable scale in that category; it runs at very high margins. We think we’re going to be able to grow it in concert with our other properties in the state, both from a traffic standpoint by re-circulating some traffic and helping build some more search rank with the property.

Then also on the monetization on the back end with our current customer set we saw some significant lift that we could bring to it, so we think it’s going to be a nice augment to that business. When we looked at the operating scale of publishing all the best credit card offers and all of that, the sites seen that well already and we think we’ll be able to maintain that and improve that a bit, at a scale that’s comfortable for us.

Christa Quarles - Thomas Weisel Partners

Then as you look at some of the newer sites that you’ve worked out, there’s clearly no real scale leader there. Is that ultimately the goal, to continue to amalgamate what you’ve got there? Is there enough even out there to consolidate in those spaces or is it starting to build positions and then see where some of the sites ultimately will fill in?

Bob Brisco

We’re seeing a bit of both, so we’ve been doing some, I would describe the creditor web as more of a tuck in acquisition around our home finance category that we’re able to do on very favorable terms.

I would point to MySummerCamps as an example of a niche that is a relatively small niche in the scheme of the whole vastness of the internet, but very dominant in its position. We didn’t talk about it much on the call so far, so let me just fill that in a bit.

That family of 20 sites is roughly three to four times bigger than the next competitor in that space. It was a slightly larger deal than we do on average. We saw that there’s a real opportunity to extend that property out further, it’s got about 25% market penetrations of all summer camps in the United States and Canada. Actually, I’m sorry it’s closer to 20. Then we benchmark that and look at our best practices where we’ve got strong positions and we think there’s significant upside.

I would say we’re finding in some of these more specific leashes that there are properties available under attractive terms that are clear market leaders in their space. I think you’re going to see a fair amount of those from us: tuck-ins, in categories that have already got a big footprint, but also establishing leadership positions in some of these very tightly focused niche markets.


Your next question comes from Colin Gillis - Canaccord.

Colin Gillis - Canaccord Adams

How many of the sites that you’re acquiring are coming over with zero or just one person?

Bob Brisco

The vast majority.

Colin Gillis - Canaccord Adams

So north of 70%, 75%, 80% type thing?

Bob Brisco


Colin Gillis - Canaccord Adams

Can you give us an update on your thoughts about the timing for additional categories?

Bob Brisco

Yes, so we’ve guided previously that we would announce another category some time this year and our rough guidance was over the course of the summer, we’re guiding mid-year, by end of summer and we’re right on pace for that. As we speak, we’ve not only been planning, but starting to build some momentum in a specific category, so expect some news from us before too long on that front.


Your next question comes from Iwan Juana - First New York Securities.

[Iwan Juana] - First New York Securities

Going back to your acquisition strategy, can you elaborate a little bit more about the direction for future acquisitions in terms of what kind of website that you’d be interested in? Then the second question is I’m just curious whether auto related website or carbine website is of any interest to you?

Bob Brisco

Can you clarify the second part of your question about automotive?

[Iwan Juana] - First New York Securities

Yes, auto related website.

Bob Brisco

What is our interest?

[Iwan Juana] - First New York Securities

Yes, an area of interest.

Bob Brisco

Sure so, in terms of our acquisition criteria, we look at both the consumer and the advertiser side. On the consumer side we’re looking for organic traffic, high traffic, and high community participation generally, some uniqueness in the offering or the content and viral growth that generates from all of that. That’s our ideal site.

On the advertiser side, we look for high-yield categories; hence things like credit cards were the affiliate fees are up to $200.00 per application that comes through, or the MySummerCamp business that the incremental value of a camper for a month is $5,000.00 is a huge amount for the camp operator.

We look for categories that have high transactional value to the advertiser, and also generally a large set of advertisers: not a few, typically dozens, or in the case of summer camps we think there’s upwards of 40 to 50,000 advertising prospects in the US and Canada.

It’s mostly around those criteria and I think that Christa’s earlier point, we also look at the competitor set, and if there’s somebody in such a dominant position that you can’t compete, we’ll obviously stay away from the category. Generally we find in these web publishing markets that if we can finish first that’s terrific, but if we can finish second or third, than our margin structure is just as good as the market leader in those categories, because that autonomy of scale aren’t that steep, to finish a close second or a strong third in a lot of these categories.

Regarding automotive, generally we’ve been deploying most of our capital not in automotive sector at this point. We did do a few tuck-in acquisitions in the fourth quarter and one in the first quarter around automotive enthusiasts, but we’re the largest operator in the world by far.

Our eyes are open for interesting tuck-in acquisitions in automotive categories, though that’s not a major emphasis right now.


Your last question comes from Analyst for Jason Helfstein - Oppenheimer.

Analyst for Jason Helfstein - Oppenheimer & Co

Overall it’s like a challenge of creating a successful network. As you probably know, has faced public comments from Jana Partners highlighting what Jana views are mistakes CNETs making, for example sub optimal search optimization is one issue that’s been highlighted.

Clearly Internet Brands has been very successful in growing a large number of sites, growing leverage, increasing traffic, increasing leverage etc. I’m just curious what you think have been major keys to your success and how defensible you think the business model is going forward.

Bob Brisco

Regarding the defensibility, we feel it’s very high and the proof points I point to are traffics growing since we’ve acquired the sites, many of them we’ve owned now for up to a couple years.

When you look at the longevity of the sites we’re acquiring, you’d be surprised how long they are. The shortest length of time that these sites have been around is three years. Some of them go back 10 or 15 years and if you actually look at the traffic structure in terms of market share of traffic in a lot of categories, it’s stickier than you might imagine given how quickly we all perceive things are changing on the internet.

In our view, what’s going on there is that brand does matter. That getting consumer awareness, getting bookmarks, receiving traffic from dozens, or thousands, or hundreds of traffic partners, achieving search engine rank, all of those things accrue to operators over long periods of time.

We think that the consumer site is quite defensible, the keys there to staying up high in terms of traffic are treating your communities well, making the appropriate editorial investments, as you mentioned continuing to think about your content from a search engine perspective.

On the advertising side of the business, I think where that’s defensible is, frankly the money follows the eyeballs and we’re finding over time more valuable ways and just more ways of monetizing the traffic on all of our websites. We have a growing list of best practices in terms of what type of monetization techniques work on websites.

As you may know we run all the various models, CPA, CPL, CPC, CPM, affiliates and so forth and we’re becoming increasingly skilled at quickly applying the best practices to things in our network and almost every acquisition brings us some new insight that we can apply to other parts of our network. I think that speaks for the defensibility side of it.

In terms of how we organize ourselves to grow as quickly as we can, we stay very focused. We’ve broken the business into the three main areas: home, travel, and auto.

In spite of that we’ve further broken those categories down by segments, so as an example in the travel segment we’re currently thinking of it as three pieces: one travel lodging, two travel and leisure communities, and three consumer electronics sites categories. We continue to sub divide them out and put the appropriate management attention at the property level, so that we win not only at the network level, but also property by property and sub group by sub group.


That’s all the time we have for questions. I’d like to thank everyone for joining the Internet Brands first quarter 2008 results conference call.

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