A new analysis by COMvergence shows that the pace of M&A deals by holding companies and consultancies in the first half of the year has greatly slowed. Just 24 deals had been closed versus 30 in H1 2018, 42 in H1 2017, and 75 in H1 2016.
That’s a 69% drop between 2019 and three years ago.
What happened? Just a few years ago, ad tech was the Wild West, with acquisitions and mergers happening left and right. There were the news-breaking major deals, from 2016’s AT&T and Time Warner’s $86 billion merger to Verizon’s 2017 acquisition of Yahoo, but also a slew of smaller acquisitions like Dentsu Aegis’ 2016 acquisition of trading desk Accordant. Venture capital funds pumped speculative money into a hot sector full of all different types of companies that looked promising: data, content, distribution, measurement, fraud protection.
The decrease in M&A activity is indicative of a maturing market where some models have failed and others have succeeded. This is natural in any Darwinian system. Instead of survival of the fittest, it’s survival of the most profitable, most honest, and most transparent. Only companies with clear missions, transparent practices, and consistent profits to back them up will end up making it through an oversaturated market.
This dip in 2019 M&As makes sense in the grander scheme of the ad tech rush of five years ago. While it seems that much of the ad tech story has been written, it’s far from over. The giants are now facing scrutiny, FTC fines, and perhaps antitrust battles in the near future. New opportunities are constantly emerging in mobile apps and OTT, and the privacy wars may yet create even more new spaces for companies to spring up. It’s up to the next generation of companies to take advantage of a larger playing field.