It looks like Myspace is becoming a big-media property once again. Today during its quarterly earnings report, Time Inc announced that it has acquired Viant, a profitable company that has built a large ad tech business, but also owns other properties, including once-hot social networking site Myspace. Terms of the deal are not being disclosed. As part of it, Time Inc will become a majority owner of Viant, with the Vanderhook family, which founded Viant, retaining a minority stake (percentages undisclosed).
A spokesperson for Viant tells us that Time Inc. intends to keep all of Viant and run it as an independent business. The company also includes, in addition to MySpace and the Advertising Cloud product, Vindico, Specific Media and Xumo. “It’s business as usual,” he said.
Time plans to combine Viant’s business with its own, creating a big data, ad targeting powerhouse. Specifically, Time says it will “merge its premium content, subscriber data, and advertising inventory with Viant’s first party data and programmatic capabilities to bring substantial value to customers of both platforms.”
That premium content attracts 150 million visitors each month to more than 60 websites. Big-name consuer brands under Time include People, Sports Illustrated, InStyle, Time, Real Simple, Southern Living, Entertainment Weekly and more.
And now, that will also include Myspace.
“MySpace is intrinsic to Viant’s people-based advertising platform,” a spokesperson tells me.
Why the move to buy Viant? Publishers are hoping to increase their activity in ad tech in order to offset losses in more traditional business areas like publishing and more basic advertising services.
Time Inc — iconic as it is — is no different. Today, the company reported a big drop in revenues for the quarter and full year, as well as a drop in net income for the quarter and swing to a net loss of $881 million for the full year.
“This acquisition is game changing for us,” said Time Inc. Chairman and CEO Joe Ripp in a statement. “Marketers are selecting media partners that have either data-driven capabilities or premium content; we will be able to deliver both in a single platform, and will stand apart from those that offer just one or the other. In other words, we will be able to deliver advertisers’ messages targeted to optimal audiences across all types of devices, along with the ability to measure ROI.”
Viant, on the other hand, is a profitable operation and has been for the past decade, says Tim Vanderhook, Viant’s CEO. The company also had a relatively small list of investors: it raised $10 million in 2006 from Enterprise Partners and Shepherd Ventures, but a private equity round that it took after that has all been repaid to those backers. Vanderhook tells us that Viant was in the process of fundraising when it decided to go with a Time Inc acquisition.
“We had been doing a capital raise, an equity round, ” he said. “We were looking at both private equity and strategic investors because we wanted to put more capital to work to grow the business. At the last minute we made the decision to go with Time Inc because of the benefits that a strategic brings to the table. It is a combination of premium content assets with our ad tech that brings a compelling alternative to Google and Facebook.”
Viant claims that its ad network covers 1.2 billion people, with its Advertising Cloud, launched in 2014, described (by Viant itself) as “one of the largest registered user databases, powering a comprehensive suite of advertising applications available on-demand, in the cloud.”
Its unique selling point is that its ad data is not based around cookies like many services, but on registered, named users. “We are transitioning away from cookies and more towards people-based data, registered users and being able to target data more accurately,” Vanderhook says. “As we looked to raise capital, the opportunity was clear: we had the data marketers were looking for, and we had the programmatic capabilities to execute on that data.”
Time Inc. says the Viant assets will give it product covering three areas:
- First Party Data – Bolstering Viant’s vast pool of registration data with Time Inc.’s subscriber database creates a first party dataset that rivals industry leaders Facebook and Google.
- Programmatic Technology – Viant’s Advertising Cloud platform brings Time Inc. programmatic advertising technology with people based data management, targeting, and advanced analytics.
- Quality Content – Time Inc. is the leader in producing the highest quality content reaching 150 million consumers every month across the world’s most recognized brands including TIME, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and People.
Viant rebranded in 2015 from Interactive Media Holdings. Before that it was called Specific Media. It was Specific when it went in with Justin Timberlake and acquired MySpace in 2011 from News Corp., reportedly for $35 million. (News Corp bought MySpace for $580 million and then it proceeded to tank.)
“We’re the bold company,” CEO and cofounder Tim Vanderhook once said in an interview, “the one who acquired MySpace when no one else would.”
Growth at the MySpace business, meanwhile, has not slowed down since it was acquired by Viant, he said.
“MySpace has done great post launch. We’ve shifted some of the focus from a pure traffic drive to driving more engagement, and we have been really successful at doing that. But it’s a constant balance of how do you attract new users or bring back the old users. Most people have accounts there.” He says that average visitors to the site ranges between 20 million and 50 million users each month.