File picture: Reuters/Sergio Perez
File picture: Reuters/Sergio Perez

Verizon to sell off media brands Yahoo, AOL for $5bn

By The Washington Post Time of article published May 4, 2021

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By Hannah Denham

Verizon will sell its media arm, spinning off digital pioneers AOL and Yahoo, to a private equity firm for $5 billion.

Verizon announced the deal with New York-based Apollo Global Management in a Monday news release. It will keep a 10% stake in Verizon Media Group, which will be renamed Yahoo after the deal closes in the second half of the year.

Guru Gowrappan, who will stay on as chief executive of the media company, says the transaction allows Verizon to focus on long-term growth.

"We are excited to be joining forces with Apollo," Gowrappan said in the release. "The past two quarters of double-digit growth have demonstrated our ability to transform our media ecosystem. With Apollo's sector expertise and strategic insight, Yahoo will be well positioned to capitalize on market opportunities, media and transaction experience and continue to grow our full stack digital advertising platform."

On Sunday, Verizon board members approved a $3 million retention bonus for Gowrappan if he stays on for at least six months after the sale closes, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Verizon is selling the two online pioneers for substantially less than it paid: AOL, the original dial-up online service, was acquired for $4.4 billion in 2015. Two years later, it bought Yahoo for nearly $4.5 billion. Verizon then folded the two companies under the umbrella of Oath, Inc.

Though Yahoo and AOL have since been surpassed by start-up-turned-giants like Google and Facebook, they still include such assets as Yahoo News, Yahoo Finance, and AOL's TechCrunch and Endgadget, as well as Verizon's hold on advertising technology that shapes user data into profit.

"We are big believers in the growth prospects of Yahoo and the macro tailwinds driving growth in digital media, advertising technology and consumer internet platforms," David Sambur, Apollo's partner and co-head of private equity, said in the release. "Apollo has a long track record of investing in technology and media companies and we look forward to drawing on that experience to help Yahoo continue to thrive."

Kathryn Rudie Herrigan, the Henry R. Kravis professor of business leadership at Columbia Business School and who has studied the communications industry for roughly 50 years, said Verizon's move is intelligent and a first among its competitors to divert from its media assets.

"What you're looking at here is a question of strategic decision," she said. "There might be financial matters making it a strategic triage, also, but I think it's just that Verizon is looking at which way the wind is blowing and the feasibility of getting operating synergies, and there isn't as much there as they had thought there was.

And Apollo, she added, excels at finding properties worth monetizing and transforming before selling off to the perfect parent. The firm has experience acquiring digital media companies, including Shutterfly and Cox Media Group in 2019.

"Verizon is the first one to move and found itself a very good private equity company who will probably take all of the content assets that Verizon is willing to sell and probably bundle them up with additional content. And it might turn out to make a really nifty internet content and online data company," Herrigan said. "It also might be a thesis that is flawed. In other words, there's got to be a limit to how many really good viable companies you can put together with the scraps that people are willing to spin off."

The terms of the acquisition, which include Verizon Media's assets and its advertising technology business, hand $4.25 billion in cash and preferred interests of $750 million to Verizon. Goldman Sachs was Verizon's lead financial adviser, along with Evercore and legal counselors Kirkland & Ellis and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. LionTree joins Apollo Funds as an investor and lead financial adviser for the equity firm.

Monday's announcement had little effect on Verizon's share price, which edged up 0.2% to close at $58.20. The company, which has a nearly $240 billion market cap, recorded nearly $32.9 billion in total revenue for its first quarter ending March 31, a 4% gain from a year ago that beat analyst expectations, according to its earnings report.

The Washington Post

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