FTC Looking Over Google's AdMob Bid

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-12-08 Print this article Print

If I hadn't ignored my gut and more vociferously asserted that Google's $750 million bid for AdMob would be contested by federal regulators, I could say I told you so.

As it stands, I gave industry analysts who watch the space like a hawk and actual industry players the benefit of the doubt when they told me the mobile display ad market was nascent and market share was diluted enough to help the bid pass muster.

With AdMob, Google will wield a combined market share of 24 percent, based on mobile ad revenues.

File this new then under "I almost told you so." The Wall Street Journal Dec. 7 reported that Federal Trade Commission is reviewing Google's bid for AdMob. However, this isn't as serious as scrutiny that could come from the Department of Justice, the Journal assured us (paywall warning):

The development at this stage appears procedural, indicating that the responsibility for a review has been assigned to the FTC rather than the Justice Department. Both U.S. agencies share responsibility for enforcing federal antitrust laws. There is no indication so far that the FTC has found any potential objections to the transaction.

If this is so, it's simply a case of putting Google in check. The company is growing in power and, while we can hardly accuse it of striking Microsoftian bargains to lock in users, Google's growth on the Web is broadening as each month passes by.

Should we be alarmed? No, not yet (though privacy advocates will protest). But Google gives the overt impression of a company looking to expand its purview online.

In October, Google added Google Maps Navigation, a free GPS feature for Google Maps for mobile for Android smartphones. This disrupts the GPS device business.

Last week, Google launched a free DNS. This disrupts the paid DNS services of OpenDNS, NeuStar and Tucows.

Google also quietly rolled out Google Dictionary, which could take searches (and therefore ad revenue) from Answers.com, Merriam & Webster and Dictionary.com. This disrupts the online dictionary business.

Just yesterday, Google entered the real-time search space with a bang. Don't think for a second that the litany of startups indexing Twitter tweets and other Web content aren't sweating now. The 800-pound search gorilla has just entered their slice of the forest.

Then there are the acquisitions.

Since August, Google has acquired six companies, and is easily the only company acquiring at such a rapid clip. Those acquisitions have been small, but have come in video compression (On2), online IDs (ReCaptcha), advertising (AdMob), Web softphones (Gizmo5), more advertising (Teracent) and, just last week, real-time document editing (AppJet).

Hungry, Google?

AdMob is smallish, but Google is paying an estimated 10x premium because the future of mobile advertising is at stake; Google wants to dig in mobile ads good before Microsoft and Yahoo do.

Google told the Journal me:

"We don't see any regulatory concerns with this deal, but closer scrutiny has been one consequence of our success. On that basis, we wouldn't be surprised if there were some regulatory review before the deal closes."

At least Google formally recognizes its hunger and success online make it officially a target for the feds. I'll be exploring this in a news analysis for eWEEK later today.

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