Microsoft isn't the only one questioning whether a Google-DoubleClick merger would be good for advertisers and consumers.
During a panel on "The Changing Landscape" at the MiXX 2007 Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) conference in New York on September 24, Yahoo and WPP Plc representatives joined a Microsoft official in voicing their worries about the $3 billion proposed deal.
The panel moderator, New York Times Editor Saul Hansel, asked participating panelists whether the Google-DoubleClick deal should be approved. Representatives from Yahoo, WPP took pains to answer carefully and vaguely, but their concerns still came through.
Michael Walrath, founder and CEO of Right Media, which Yahoo acquired in April, totally avoiding answering Hansel's question, but made it clear that he wasn't in favor of it. Yahoo officials previously have indicated they believe the Google-DoubleClick merger deserves government scrutiny.
The U.S. House and Senate and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission are looking into potential market-competition concerns surrounding the deal. Google asked the European Commission to investigate the implications of the deal, as well.
David Moore, Chairman and CEO of 24/7 Real Media, of which WPP completed its acquisition in July, said there shouldn't be "blanket approval to move forward" for Google and DoubleClick. He said there should be some constraints placed on the pair so they won't be able to do anything they want.
Karl Siebrecht, president of the Atlas division of aQuantive, the ad powerhouse Microsoft acquired earlier this year, was, not surprisingly, the least reticent to criticize the Google-DoubleClick deal.
Siebrecht reiterated that Microsoft has "concerns around market concentration implications of this merger." He said Microsoft is responding to FTC requests for information about the Google-DoubleClick deal.
David Rosenblatt, CEO of DoubleClick, who was also on the MiXX panel, quickly responded: "There's no irony there at all."
Hansel chimed in, noting that Microsoft was allowed by government regulators to close its $6 billion deal for aQuantive while being a "proven monopolist." Hansel didn't mention explicitly Microsoft's new lobbying efforts around thwarting the Google-DoubleClick deal.
Rosenblatt emphasized that "in terms of data, (DoubleClick's) customers own all of their data, one hundred percent. Any customer can take their data whenever they want. I find it unlikely any M&A (merger and acquisition) activity would change that. … To believe somehow that a Google-DoubleClick deal would make this market less competitive than is today stretches common sense."
Hansel followed up with the point that Google often offers for free various services and products for which other vendors charge. He noted that Google could offer ad serving for free and turn it completely into a commodity.
DoubleClick's Rosenblatt and other panelists noted that ad serving already is basically free and that it is the services and tools surrounding it that are the potentially lucrative business arena for those playing in the online advertising market.
"The issue is one of neutrality," 24/7 Real Media's Moore added. "For years, DoubleClick was positioning itself as the Switzerland of the ad business. With the pending (Google) transaction, it's hard for that to continue to be the case. Google is the new Microsoft, where Microsoft is becoming the nice guy now, which is really a change. So the real issue for the industry is that neutrality is getting harder and harder to find."
What do you think? Is Microsoft really now Mr. Nice Guy -- at least in the online ad space?