Will AOL/Verizon force Yahoo to spend—or sell?

Marissa Mayer
Eric Piermont | AFP | Getty Images
Marissa Mayer

Could the AOL/Verizon merger force Marissa Mayer's hand?

The merger of the telecom giant and the pioneering Internet company could pressure the CEO of Yahoo—the only other early Internet media company still standing—to either sell the company or shift strategy to stay relevant, several analysts said.

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Even though the company is big, with a market capitalization of roughly $44 billion today, much of that value is due to the company's stakes in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and Yahoo Japan. Some analysts say the company's core business would have negative value without those assets.

From that perspective, the AOL/Verizon deal actually helps the company—at least in making it more attractive to potential buyers.

"Given Yahoo's lack of end-to-end ad-tech capability, continued rapid growth in programmatic advertising, and relatively soft performance in Yahoo's core display business in recent years, management is likely to feel some pressure to improve performance in core or explore a potential sale," Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Youssef Squali said in a note Tuesday.

Verizon is buying AOL partially for its programmatic advertising capabilities, which could make Yahoo's recent programmatic ad acquisitions (BrightRoll and Gemini), look better, and thus make the company a more tempting acquisition target, said Anthony DiClemente of Nomura Securities.

"Yahoo's consolidated ad tech stack, which includes some of the same functionality as AOL's platform, could prove valuable for a buyer looking for similar strategic assets following the spinoff of Alibaba and Yahoo Japan," said DiClemente.

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One problem: For now, the company, with its Alibaba and Yahoo Japan assets, has an expensive price tag, making it an unlikely target, said Colin Gillis, analyst at BGC Financial.

Instead, the increased competition the merger would bring could make Yahoo shop more aggressively for other companies to buy, Gillis said. After all, the company is still sitting on billions of dollars from the partial sale of its Alibaba stake.

That possibility also has problems: There aren't many $1 billion or $2 billion start-ups for sale that other Yahoo rivals, including Google and Facebook, haven't already looked at, Gillis said.

If anything, the merger announcement highlights what a missed opportunity AOL was for Yahoo, said Gillis.

"If AOL didn't make sense for you, what does?" he said.

Yahoo did not respond to a request for comment.

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