Google Wins FTC Approval to Buy AdMob
By Aruna Viswanatha | May 21, 2010 1:14 pm

The Federal Trade Commission signed off on Google’s $750 million purchase of mobile advertising platform AdMob on Friday, citing Apple’s recent entry into the market.

Rumors circulated earlier this month that FTC staff were preparing to block the transaction. But mobile applications developers outlined their interactions with the agency and argued that stopping the deal would be misguided.

In a news release, the FTC said its “serious antitrust” concerns about the deal were “overshadowed” by Apple’s recent efforts to set up its own mobile ad network, called the iAd.

David Gelfand from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP represented Google in the antitrust review, and Peter Thomas from Simpson Thacher & Barlett LLP represented AdMob.

The commission voted 5-0 to approve the deal.

Read the commission’s statement here. The FTC’s full release is below:

FTC Closes its Investigation of Google AdMob Deal

After Thorough Review, Agency Finds Transaction Not Likely to Harm Competition

The Federal Trade Commission has closed its investigation of Google’s proposed acquisition of mobile advertising network company AdMob after thoroughly reviewing the deal and concluding that it is unlikely to harm competition in the emerging market for mobile advertising networks.

In a statement issued today, the Commission said that although the combination of the two leading mobile advertising networks raised serious antitrust issues, the agency’s concerns ultimately were overshadowed by recent developments in the market, most notably a move by Apple Computer Inc. – the maker of the iPhone – to launch its own, competing mobile ad network. In addition, a number of firms appear to be developing or acquiring smartphone platforms to better compete against Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android, and these firms would have a strong incentive to facilitate competition among mobile advertising networks.

“As a result of Apple’s entry (into the market), AdMob’s success to date on the iPhone platform is unlikely to be an accurate predictor of AdMob’s competitive significance going forward, whether AdMob is owned by Google or not,” the Commission’s statement explains.

The Commission stressed that mergers in fast-growing new markets like mobile advertising should get the same level of antitrust scrutiny as those in other markets. The statement goes on to note that, “Though we have determined not to take action today, the Commission will continue to monitor the mobile marketplace to ensure a competitive environment and to protect the interests of consumers.”

Mobile ad networks, such as those provided by Google and AdMob, sell advertising space for mobile publishers, who create applications and content for websites configured for mobile devices, primarily Apple’s iPhone and devices that run Google’s Android operating system. By “monetizing” mobile publishers’ content through the sale of advertising space, mobile ad networks play a vital role in fueling the rapid expansion of mobile applications and Internet content.

According to the FTC’s statement, evidence gathered by the agency raised important questions about the transaction. Google and AdMob have competed head-to-head for the past few years, with a notable increase in intensity during the past year. This competition has spurred innovation and allowed mobile publishers to keep a large share of the revenue generated from the sale of their ad space. The companies also have economies of scale that give them a major advantage over smaller rivals in the business, the statement says.

These concerns, however, were outweighed by recent evidence that Apple is poised to become a strong competitor in the mobile advertising market, the FTC’s statement says. Apple recently acquired Quattro Wireless and used it to launch its own iAd service. In addition, Apple can leverage its close relationships with application developers and users, its access to a large amount of proprietary user data, and its ownership of iPhone software development tools and control over the iPhone developers’ license agreement.

The Commission vote to close the investigation was 5-0.

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