Did Microsoft panic and overpay?

May 18, 2007, 6:54 PM UTC

Take that Google (GOOG). After losing out on nearly every major deal imaginable, Microsoft (MSFT) finally has landed a counterpunch to Google, and a pricey one at that, by buying online ad agency AQuantive (AQNT). Google bested Microsoft in the high-priced competition to supply Time Warner’s (TWX) AOL with search advertising. It trumped Mr. Softee again when it paid $900 million for News Corp.’s search business that included serving search to MySpace. And it snatched DoubleClick from Microsoft’s grasp too.

Buying AQuantive for $6 billion is a massive move for Microsoft. If it can integrate its Seattle neighbor well, the AQuantive purchase will be a jumpstart for Microsoft’s MSN business. Then again, it could be a costly waste, a too-late, too-timid move where the far more expensive purchase of Yahoo (YHOO) truly would have made Microsoft a player in the online world. Microsoft has a history of unsuccessfully tossing around big bucks to “get into the game.” Think: WebTV (1997), LinkExchange (1998) and CompareNet (1999). LinkExchange, for those who don’t remember, was an online advertising network. Um, that’s in large part what’s relevant about AQuantive’s business. Oh well. (In fairness, a really good get-into-the-game and extremely expensive acquisition: 1998’s Hotmail.)

It’s also something to see all of the late 1990s online ad flameouts – DoubleClick, AQuantive, and 24/7 (TFSM), which WPP Group (WPPGY) bought yesterday – getting snapped up. Even the formerly disastrous Snowball.com, later re-named IGN, is now a robust part of the growing Fox Interactive Media empire. What a time to be in online media.