May 29, 2007, 12:00 AM

Feds will review Google’s bid to acquire DoubleClick

The Federal Trade Commission has decided to review Google’s proposed deal to acquire online advertising firm DoubleClick. Google says it remains confident the deal will go through.

Over the past month, there has been a spate of announcements about big companies buying online advertising firms. Now, the government has taken the first step toward reviewing those deals, informing Google that it wants more information about the search engine’s proposed $3.1 billion deal for DoubleClick.

Such a “second request” inquiry from the Federal Trade Commission typically can delay a deal from four to nine months, says John Taladay, an antitrust attorney with the law firm of Howrey LLP. While a request of this type from the FTC or the Department of Justice often signals that the regulators are concerned that a proposed deal might limit competition, Taladay believes in this case it likely is a sign the FTC wants to learn more about the online advertising market before making a decision. Taladay predicts the FTC ultimately will approve the acquisition.

The Federal Trade Commission sent the request for additional information to Google on Friday, the last day of a 30-day period in which the government could indicate its intention to review the purchase. Google says the request was expected and that the company remains confident the deal will be approved.

“Numerous independent analysts and academics have determined after looking at this acquisition that the online advertising industry is a dynamic and evolving space-as evidenced by a number of recently announced acquisitions-and that rich competition in this industry will bring more relevant ads to consumers and more choices for advertisers and web site publishers,” said Don Harrison, Google’s senior corporate counsel.

An FTC spokesperson says the length of these reviews varies with each deal. "I`ve seen some last a month and I`ve seen some last a year," he said.

Following Google’s announcement that it would buy DoubleClick, which places banner ads on web sites, Yahoo Inc. announced plans to buy online ad exchange Right Media and Microsoft Corp. said it planned to purchase aQuantive, an online advertising firm.

Taladay says the deal is likely to go through because Google and DoubleClick play different roles in Internet advertising: Google sells its own ad space while DoubleClick sells ad space owned by other web publishers. To try to stop the deal, the government would have to argue that Google and DoubleClick would have undue market power in the entire market of online advertising, which Taladay calls “a really broad space.”

“I understand why the FTC is looking at this, but I don’t think it will result in any sort of challenge,” Taladay says. “It would require an extraordinarily novel approach for the FTC to challenge this deal.”

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