Who Will Buy LiveRamp? A List Of Favorites, And Dark Horses

When IPG acquired Acxiom’s managed services group, Marketing Solutions (AMS), for $2.3 billion last week, it marked the end of a five- months-long strategic review of the business – and the start of the next big sales review process with LiveRamp.

Acxiom already had opened a strategic review of LiveRamp but was intent on selling AMS before considering bids for its data onboarding and identity matching company.

With the AMS deal done, expect not so much a flurry as a blizzard of interest in LiveRamp.

“It’s almost the perfect storm for LiveRamp to extract the most value” from potential buyers, said Elgin Thompson, managing director of Digital Capital Advisors’ tech and media investment banking practice.

There’s no close second to LiveRamp’s data onboarding practice, he said, and regulatory concerns make it a more critical asset for the industry, even if it comes with added risk.

AdExchanger examined some of the companies and categories likely to be in contention for LiveRamp if it moves forward with a sale.

Oracle

For those taking bets, Oracle may be the favorite for an eventual LiveRamp destination.

LiveRamp would fit neatly into Oracle Data Cloud alongside Moat and the consumer data company Datalogix. It would be a valuable ad tech asset without actually pushing Oracle into media buying.

Cloud rivals such as Adobe and Salesforce have avoided companies that collect, own and sell data, which Oracle has embraced through its data cloud.

Oracle also launched a data onboarding and online-to-offline matching service called OnRamp last year, trying to establish a foothold in a market dominated by LiveRamp. Buying the 800-pound onboarding gorilla could be more appealing than fighting with it.

Adobe

Adobe is one of the marketing cloud strategics expected to be in the hunt for LiveRamp.

Acxiom launched its Digital Transformation Services, a product built on both LiveRamp’s identity linking and AMS managed services, at the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas in March. LiveRamp and Adobe also have longstanding partnerships and co-developed products.

A LiveRamp deal would have interesting implications following Adobe’s other acquisitions the past two years – namely the TubeMogul video DSP in late 2016 and Magento, an ecommerce software company, last month. LiveRamp would bring Adobe deeper into ad tech and a way to activate commerce data and identities from the Magento platform.

AT&T

AT&T’s Advertising and Analytics group has a mandate to be aggressive, Thompson said.

And a LiveRamp deal would be aggressive indeed.

LiveRamp is already a player in addressable TV advertising and could send AT&T’s mobile device profiles down its many display advertising inroads.

A LiveRamp deal would put a twist in AT&T’s recent acquisition of AppNexus, since AT&T would then own the primary pieces of the Advertising ID Consortium, a collaborative model to sync cookie IDs using AppNexus’ cookie domain space and LiveRamp’s Identity Link. The consortium has already been challenged by ad tech vendors due to LiveRamp’s involvement, and further consolidation within AT&T will not help its neutrality claims.

A land grab for identity-linking services, however, could be a reason for AT&T to buy LiveRamp, even if the consortium goes by the wayside. Many consider the IAB Tech Lab’s Digitrust consortium, which just signed an agreement to integrate with the Ad ID Consortium, a better fit for the cross-industry ID service.

Salesforce

Of all the major marketing clouds, Salesforce has kept advertising technology at an arm’s length. The company pointedly partners on paid media and advertising measurement services instead of owning products themselves.

But despite LiveRamp’s ad tech label, its status as middleware technology and pure SaaS revenue model would strongly reinforce Salesforce’s thesis around building a cloud-based integrations specialist, according to Thompson.

The $6.5 billion acquisition of MuleSoft, a leader in middleware technology, shows how much Salesforce is willing to bet on the category.

Private equity

Private equity companies have been major ad tech M&A drivers in recent years and seem to be particularly attracted to publicly traded companies that could be snapped up and taken off the stock market.

The marketing services company Neustar, which was acquired by Golden Gate Capital private equity for $2.9 billion in late 2016, would be a natural fit for LiveRamp because it would underscore LiveRamp’s neutrality and applicability across the ecosystem, Thompson said.

But even with Neustar’s own relatively recent cash infusion and equity backing, LiveRamp could be too big a bite to comfortably digest.

Private equity companies, as with agency holding companies, don’t have the capacity to scale revenue across their portfolios like mar tech clouds or enterprise technology providers like IBM, SAP and Microsoft do, limiting the potential for a deal.

Agency holding companies

Despite IPG kickstarting speculation with its blockbuster deal for AMS, no agency holding company is a realistic LiveRamp buyer, according to Pivotal Research senior analyst Brian Wieser.

LiveRamp’s likely price tag in the low billions of dollars puts it out of reach for holding companies, which don’t have the cash to outbid marketing clouds or the ability to scale revenue to justify outsized valuations, Wieser said.

AMS, for instance, sold for about 40% above BMO Capital Market’s valuation of the business, said Dan Salmon, managing director of BMO Capital Markets’ media and technology equity research. LiveRamp, a faster-growing and “sexier” asset than the generations-old Acxiom database, could come at a similarly inflated value, he said, leaving holding companies as window shoppers in this instance.

 

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