Acxiom's LiveRamp inks deal with Sonobi as sale rumors swirl

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Now that data-marketing giant Acxiom has sold its marketing solutions platform to Interpublic for $2.3 billion, eyes are turning to Axciom's other big business: LiveRamp, which helps brands link their data with real people. While observers wonder whether LiveRamp will also go on the block, the company is adding new revenue streams—potentially stirring up an appetite among either investors or potential buyers.

LiveRamp on Tuesday announced a deal with Sonobi, which helps publishers sell digital ad inventory, that will let marketers upload their data to LiveRamp and then target signed-in users across leading publishers such as The Guardian, USA Today, Scripps and CBS. Advertisers won't need to use additional platforms to do it, as they'll be able to make the ad buys directly through LiveRamp's software.

LiveRamp is perhaps best known for its Identity Resolution service, which plugs into other platforms so marketers can target ads around the digital ecoystem, much as they can within Google and Facebook. The company had not previously offered planning, buying or measurement, instead offering its services as one piece of the larger "tech stack" that brands assemble for programmtic advertising.

The new deal makes LiveRamp "a classic one-stop shop," says Jeff Smith, chief marketing officer and general manager of brand partnerships at the company. "With Sonobi, marketers can do the planning up front, and understand where they're going to find their audiences across publishers. They can activate and target the campaign and then measure and understand the results."

This time last year, Sonobi introduced its People Based ID product. Unlike tracking cookies—which have become less useful as ad dollars shift toward mobile—Sonobi tech connects marketers with consumers who are signed in across the top 200 publishers ranked by ComScore, as well as an additional 5,000 other, smaller publications.

Sonobi CEO Michael Connolly says the company can reach some 100 million logged-in users across various publishers. "This is significant because publishers have had a hard time competing against the duopoly or larger players that have identity graphs that they've built," he says. "Pooling the publisher data gives them more of an equal footing while also providing scale."

"Marketers are sitting on their CRM data and they know their customers are on Facebook because the planet is on Facebook," Connolly adds. "But they're not sure where they are on the open web … This partnership offers clients the ability to understand where their customers consume media."

Does this mean LiveRamp is for sale?

It's not clear what will become of LiveRamp as Acxiom sheds Acxiom Marketing Services. An Acxiom representative declined to comment on the prospects for a sale.

Acxiom had revenue of $917 million for the the year ending in March 2018, 65 percent from AMS and most of the rest from LiveRamp.

Despite generating less revenue than AMS, however, LiveRamp could command a higher price tag of $2.5 billion to $3 billion, several insiders suggested.

That's partly because LiveRamp appears to bear less regulatory risk. It is regarded as a "processor" of data under Europe's GDPR regulations and not a "controller." Generally speaking, a "processor" is less exposed to the massive fines possible under GDPR. (AMS is regarded as a controller.)

And though the Sonobi deal signals that LiveRamp may be running out of road to capture more data and revenue on its own, it will also provide access to a vast number of premium publishers and reams of data on their audiences that LiveRamp previously could only get by paying fees.

The pact will likely be welcomed by publishers, Connolly says, as they will be able to deal more directly with marketers and thereby reduce the so-called ad-tech tax.

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