AOL, Microsoft, WPP: Top Wheeler Dealers

Marketing executives working with digital media vendors might need a scorecard handy to track who owns who these days.

AOL, Microsoft, and WPP each acquired five marketing, advertising, or digital media companies during the first six months of 2008, according to a report on mergers and acquisitions released today by investment bankers Petsky Prunier.

According to Petsky Prunier’s research, the companies making the most acquisitions — and some of their purchases — include:

AOL: Bebo, a social networking site; Goowy Media, a widget development platform, and Perfiliate Technologies, an affiliate network.

Microsoft: Farecast.com, an online travel search engine, and Rapt, advertisement management software.

WPP Group: Integrated Media Measurement, which has a media measurement system that links media exposure to consumer action, and Yankelovich, a consumer research company.

Aegis Group: AdWatch, a Russian Internet advertising agency, and Globlet, a Thailand search marketing agency.

Havas Advertising: Kadium, a San Francisco digital ad agency, and Shake, a promotion marketing agency based in Chatham, NJ.

A look at the marketing, advertising, and digital media sectors shows the most money was exchanged for digital media companies. There were 78 transactions involving digital media companies totaling $6.3 billion, the firm reported.

Of those deals involving digital media companies, more than one-half involved user-generated or social media businesses. Those deals included AOL’s acquisition of Bebo and Goowy Media, and Buzznet’s purchase of Idolator.

In all, the Wall Street firm identified 398 deals valued at $19.7 billion involved marketing, advertising, and digital media companies for the first half of this year. Compared to the same period in 2007, the number of deals was up this year by 21 percent but the total transaction dollar volume was down by 26 percent. It said the drop in the value of transactions was due to two factors: this year’s soft economy and two large deals last year with Microsoft’s acquisition of aQuantive and Google’s purchase of DoubleClick for $3.1 billion. (The Google-DoubleClick deal closed earlier this year, but was included by Petsky Prunier in the 2007 tally.)

As expected, no mention of the deal that didn’t happen: Microsoft-Yahoo.

Or who’s next.

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