Specific Media Secures $100 Million to Expand Beyond Display

A new $100 million investment in Specific Media means the third-ranked U.S. ad network will be among the buyers, rather than the bought, in the near future of network consolidation.

In its discussions with possible acquisition targets, Specific Media will not pursue U.S.-based display ad networks like itself however. Rather, CEO Tim Vanderhook said the firm will court companies focused on non-display categories, for instance in-video and text ad networks. It’s now in talks with many such firms, as well as with overseas online ad players, he said, declining to disclose potential targets.

“The ultimate goal is to be the largest independent ad network,” Vanderhook on Thursday told ClickZ News. That means going for “scale and offering multiple ad formats as well,” he said. “Once we do that, we believe we can be truly competitive to big portals themselves. If there’s going to be a company that overtakes Advertising.com, we definitely have our sights set on it.”

But don’t expect a mega-merger of the sort that has peppered the year to date. While an extremely large amount by the standards of the online ad sector, the $100 million funding round from Bay Area private equity firm Francisco Partners wouldn’t cover the winning bids for many recent network acquisitions, among them WPP’s buy of 24/7 Real Media ($649 million) and AOL’s acquisition of Tacoda (an estimated $270 million).

But Vanderhook added future cash influxes are probably in the cards.

“If we need additional resources our new partner Francisco is available to do that,” he said. “I would foresee that we will need more capital. We’d like to get one or two acquisitions under our belt before we do that.”

He said Specific Media might raise cash through a public offering, likely either in late 2008 or 2009.

ComScore Networks ranks Specific Media third among online ad networks, behind Advertising.com and ValueClick, with 131 million monthly unique users representing 72 percent of the U.S. online population. The company has so far specialized in online display advertising, offering a combination of targeting methods, including behavioral, demographic, contextual and geographic targeting. The decision to expand into new ad formats mimics a strategy embraced by AOL’s Advertising.com since 2006, when it branched out into streaming video ads with the acquisition of Lightningcast. Since then Advertising.com has added behavioral and mobile ad capabilities to its stable as well.

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