Microsoft throws half a billion dollars at European dotcom

29 Aug 2008

Software giant Microsoft today agreed to spend US$486m to acquire a German consumer website group, which includes the Ciao group of European price-comparison and consumer shopping sites.

The Seattle-based software company agreed to pay US$17.50 per share to buy Greenfield Online, owner of the Ciao family of consumer websites which claim to have some 26.5 million unique monthly visitors.

As a result, Greenfield has terminated a previously announced merger agreement with affiliates of Quadrangle Group LLC and is required to pay Quadrangle a US$5m fee.

Microsoft has advised Greenfield that it has entered into an agreement to sell the assets of Greenfield Online’s internet survey solutions business to an unspecified financial buyer.

The merger of Greenfield Online and Microsoft, as well as the sale of the survey businesses, is expected to close simultaneously in the fourth quarter.

“Acquiring one of Europe’s leading price-comparison, shopping and consumer-reviews sites will further extend Microsoft’s search and ecommerce services in Europe,” explained Tami Reller, corporate vice-president and chief financial officer for Windows and Online Services, Microsoft Corporation.

“The team at Ciao has built a passionate consumer community based on intuitive technology and extensive merchant relationships that we believe will deliver incremental benefit to the Microsoft Live Search platform.

“Greenfield Online’s ISS business has been a cornerstone of the company’s growth and market value — we are pleased we could find the right strategic partner for ISS to continue its growth.”

If Microsoft fails to secure a certain number of shares, the closing of the merger will require shareholder approval.

“We are excited about working with one of the world’s leading corporations to effectuate a smooth transition in both our comparison-shopping and global ISS businesses,” said Greenfield’s chief executive Albert Angrisani.

“We believe that the transition will have a positive outcome for our customers and employees.”

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years