Many of the TV Networks that stream their content online love the ad serving platform FreeWheel. Comcast is rumored to think that's a good enough reason to buy it for $320M according to TechCrunch's Ryan Lawler. He reports that a source close to the situation confirms the deal is nearly completed, but financial terms haven’t yet been finalized.
FreeWheel started in 2007 and has collected clients that include a who's who of broadcasters such as MLB.tv, ESPN, FOX, NBC Universal, Sky, Turner, and VEVO, and most recently Amazon.
Who are FreeWheel and Why should Comcast Care?
FreeWheel’s platform enables the cross-platform insertion of advertising in on-demand programming and live streaming feeds. It's regarded as the industry leader in making it easy for content companies and distributors to squeeze more advertising revenue from their content, offering highly targeted advertising insertion based on a range of user-specific factors that are attractive to advertisers. There's no question that buying FreeWheel would benefit Comcast as it expands its digital content ownership with it's $45.2 billion merger with Time Warner Cable.
What a Potential Deal Could Mean for the Online Video Industry
Freewheel's client list will continue to grow under Comcast's ownership, while the FreeWheel technology will be used to serve their ads, and for the networks that the cable company has partnered with for its own TV Everywhere services. Also if the deal goes ahead, Comcast will potentially have the size and scale with its broadband and video subscribers to drive the development of new templates for advertising deals. However, an acquisition by Comcast could be seen as a conflict of interest by some of FreeWheel’s clients — especially if you're the satellite TV provider DirecTV, which is a competitor to Comcast and an existing investor in FreeWheel.
So it's possible that Comcast will run FreeWheel as a standalone subsidiary, as they did when they acquired the online streaming provider thePlatform in 2006, which has continued to retain cable providers and TV networks as clients. FreeWheel's acquisition will be another big win for one of their existing investors – Disney’s Steamboat Ventures. It also put early money into EdgeCast, which was acquired by Verizon for more than $350 million in December 2013.
So where does this leave the landscape for independent ad serving networks?
'The acquisition would also mark the latest exit for a company in the video ad world. Last summer, both YuMe and Tremor went public. Not long after, Adap.tv was acquired by TechCrunch parent company AOL. The last big video ad companies that are still private are LiveRail, which is targeting an IPO later this year, and BrightRoll,' observes Lawler.
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