A four-year streak of expanding ad-tech M&A is set to end as strategic acquirers and foreign investors give way to price-sensitive buyers. There are several reasons why the streak is heading toward its conclusion, and today’s acquisition of Taykey highlights one such reason: despite the potential for programmatic advertising to reshape the advertising ecosystem, the complexity and variety of tools have outpaced advertisers’ ability or desire to deploy them.
Starting with 2013, the annual value of ad-tech dealmaking has jumped each year. According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, there was $2.3bn in ad-tech M&A spending last year, although just $1.8bn in 2017 with only a month to go. High-priced deals are notably lacking from this year’s total. While 2016 saw three companies exit at north of $500m, there’s only been one such transaction this year – Oracle’s purchase of Moat, one of only two targets that fetched more than 4x trailing revenue.
Last year, deals by enterprise software vendors (Adobe and Salesforce) along with overseas companies (China’s Beijing Miteno and Norway’s Telenor) spurred a 16% increase in spending on ad-tech targets, despite a drop in volume to just 66 transactions. This year, the volume continues to decline – just 56 companies have been bought so far – as those categories of buyers have grown quiet. Enterprise software providers have cooled their overall M&A spending after a pair of record years, while activity from foreign acquirers for any kind of US-based target has cooled, particularly the China-based buyers that took an interest in ad-tech in 2016.
Even if terms of Innovid’s pickup of Taykey were disclosed, the deal wouldn’t move the annual ad-tech M&A total. All signs point to a tuck-in: Innovid plans to shutter Taykey’s media and data businesses and fold the contextual analysis technology into its video ad server. Even those types of transactions will struggle to get done. There are few ad-tech firms like Innovid with stable, expanding revenue, and even fewer with access to capital to ink acquisitions – venture capitalists in the US have largely abandoned the space, and the public markets are even less welcoming.
Why have investors and acquirers retreated from ad-tech? Those that wanted to make a bet here already have. And, although the industry is undergoing a significant change as media consumption becomes ubiquitously digital, advertisers must pass through a gauntlet of challenges and opportunities to capitalize on that shift, entailing dozens of vendors ranging from what kind of audience data to use, who to partner with on measurement, how to gain visibility on the media supply chain, and how to scrutinize providers making vague promises on the power of artificial intelligence, blockchain and other technology themes that haven’t been part of the advertisers’ expertise.
All those choices mean there are a lot of Taykeys out there struggling to build a lasting business with advertisers across segments of ad-tech, including mobile location, identity resolution, cross-device matching, antifraud, brand safety, media buying and ad exchanges, to name a few. And there aren’t many Innovids with the appetite to buy them.
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