Real Media Founder’s Exit Rouses Deal Chatter

One of the co-founders of online advertising network Real Media is leaving the company, which has sparked new chatter that the company may be close to a merger or outright sale.

Gil Beyda, who with Dave Morgan co-founded New York-based Real Media in 1995, said he would leave the company by the end of October. Beyda said he wants to launch a new company focused on advertising technology for next-generation platforms such as interactive television and wireless, point-of-presence devices.

His departure as chief technology officer, just weeks after merger negotiations stalled between Real Media and ad serving giant DoubleClick, has also reinvigorated talk of whether Real Media again may be close to a sale.

Beyda declined to comment on a possible acquisition, but reiterated earlier reports that Real Media’s parent company, Switzerland-based PubliGroupe, has said it wants to find a strategic partner for Real Media, the number two ad serving company behind New York-based DoubleClick.

“My departure was really based upon the fact that I’m an entrepreneur. Real Media is a great company with great technology and great people and it’s time for me to go build something new,” Beyda said.

Real Media executives also denied that Beyda’s departure was in any way related to the company.

“We wish Gil the best of luck as he explores the next platforms for his technological entrepreneurialism,” said chief executive Walter Annasohn in a statement.

“We look forward to seeing what Gil comes up with to serve customers in the domains he intends to explore, especially point-of-presence and wireless applications that likely will, in years to come, complement Web ad serving for publishers.”

Although company officials publicly praised Beyda, sources familiar with both Real Media and DoubleClick nevertheless were abuzz over whether the departure signaled that the two were again close to negotiations.

Indeed, according to one source, a merger or outright purchase of Real Media and its bread-and-butter product, OpenAdStream, could happen before the end of the month.

Yet, the departure could present a second snag in Real Media’s efforts to find a buyer — raising the question of how a potential sale might be impacted now that the 38-year-old creator of is leaving the company.

PubliGroupe’s discussions to sell Real Media’s assets to DoubleClick reportedly hit the brakes in early October, right after DoubleClick’s surprise purchase of L90’s adMonitor product. According to sources, that purchase caused PubliGroupe to rethink its asking price, ultimately scuttling the sales talks amid a clash of egos.

With only a handful of players left in an online ad-serving marketplace increasingly dominated by DoubleClick, Real Media’s OpenAdStream is seen by many in the industry as the leading enterprise ad management product for serving ads locally (as opposed to an ASP model, such as that of DoubleClick’s DART product.)

In addition, after DART, OpenAdStream has one of the largest installed bases of enterprise clients, with more than 850 at last count. Those factors are widely believed to be behind PubliGroupe’s belief that it has plenty of negotiating power over a price tag for Real Media.

At any rate, the company that does ends up purchasing those assets would have bought instant penetration in the local ad serving market, and would also immediately be in a position to give DoubleClick some competition for its similar software product, AdServer.

However, among the handful of players who would be interested in purchasing Real Media — such as DoubleClick, Engage, 24/7 Media and ValueClick — DoubleClick still ranks among the most probable partner due to a massive $778 million cash hoard, and an admitted willingness to spend its bankroll on strategic acquisitions.

Meanwhile, earlier reports that DoubleClick might be close to purchasing Real Media had several leading Web publishers concerned that DoubleClick would have a near-monopoly in ad-serving technology if such a deal went through.

Indeed, a source familiar with both companies said if DoubleClick were to win out in the discussions, the deal would have to pass muster with federal anti-trust officials.

Whether the public markets and federal antitrust officials would take a dim view of the number two ad-serving company being subsumed by the dominant player remains an open question.

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