The M&A outlook for the online space keeps on getting bleaker…

I was going through the latest AdMedia Partners report on the prospects for Media Mergers and Acquisitions (you can find it here ). 

Out of the fact that the underlying message is pretty much the same as what you can read in any newspaper or the likes of PaidContent (bleaker economy outlook, low multiples, at least 4 quarters of recession coming up etc.), the interesting piece is the consensus to say that online targets are overvalued(55% of respondents).

And the growth opportunities for online are also seen as overrated, specifically for social media networks (71%), user generated content (51%) or ad networks (41%).

The good news for any buyer who has the cash and the guts to acquire now  is that multiples are down from last year: Online media is valued at 9 to 10x EBITDA in 2009 (to be proven) vs. 12 to 15x in 2008. 

But we all know that this is not going to help the tradional media players which are all crawling back into fetal positions. I was listening to a panel at Gridley Conference in NYC featuring media companies corporate dev executive (Jessica Schell from NBCU, Bill Mills from Forbes, Michael Zeisser from Liberty Media and John Zieser from Meredith) and the general feeling was that they were all going to pause for a while on the acquisition front. Maybe go after alliances but, at least Forbes and Meredith, rule out straight acquisitions for Q1 and Q2 2009.  Another discussion I got with an executive at Conde Nast also confirmed that the usually lavish company decided to limit or even discard its internet investments for 2009.

So strategic buyers are probably not going to be some much more active that the bleeding financial guys for now…

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