Should Angie’s List Merge with IAC’s Home Advisor?

Home Service leads is a hot space, with a new generation of players throwing hundreds of millions of dollars to get into the market(s), including Thumbtack, Google, Amazon, Home Depot, Pro.com, Porch, ReachLocal, Yodle, Serviz, BuildZoom and the list goes on.

The old leaders in the space – IAC’s Home Advisor (ex ServiceMagic) and Angie’s List — presumably remain on top. But they are seeing a lot of pressure as they strive for profits, brand recognition, and to keep their traditional merchant ties and consumer activity.

Indeed, the two companies have evolved their services considerably. Both have made marketplace adjustments to focus on features such as on demand leads, mobile-centric research and ordering, social-driven reviews (and in Home Advisor’s case, service cost estimates.) But there is always a sense that they are under performing, given the market’s growing acceptance of mobile comerce. Wall Street has certainly given Angie’s List a drubbing.

Now TCS Capital Management, a giant New York-based investor that has quietly amassed 9.1. percent of Angie’s List, is seeking to push the companies together in a merger. Would it be a good marriage that leads to new profits, customers and sustainability? Or would it be an unwieldy combination of two struggling companies with very different strengths?

IAC could probably buy Angie’s List at a discount, given its recent struggles. The two large players — ostensibly, direct competitors — could double up on national advertising; scale back duplication in customer service and merchant sales; re-focus the huge marketing costs that both companies have recently been taking on with TV campaigns; and perhaps attract interest down the road from a mega player such as Google that is not deeply rooted in the space.

But are Barry Diller and the IAC team ready to make such an investment? It has seen some positive activity with Home Advisor recently. According to CEO Chris Terrill, who was speaking at BIA/Kelsey’s SMB event a few weeks ago in Denver, the company is on pace to make $350 million this year, and has seen seven quarters of accelerating growth. It also has seen real success with a strategy of focusing on individual verticals, instead of a broad, Yellow Pages like, multi-vertical approach.

But it is an open question whethere IAC is “all in.” While we see the new TV branding campaigns – at last — and the new focus on on demand, we’ve also seen cutbacks overseas. IAC may also be distracted for some time by its just announced efforts to spin off its Match dating properties (Tinder, Match etc).

Angie’s List, meanwhile, derives a great deal of its value not only from its advertising revenue, but from its unique, premium subscription model; its behind the firewall reviews; and its ties to a devoted merchant base. Some services thrive exclusively on their Angie’s List activities.

It might be attractive for Angie’s List to get rid of its huge expenses supporting customer service. But would its appeal hold if the subscription model was dropped and it was made free? And what would be left for loyal customers if the brand was dropped? And would Home Advisor’s aggressive moves into social media and on demand serve the typical Angie’s List subscriber, which generally skews older?

In truth, Angie’s List may not have a choice but to seek a sale to a rival player: it doesn’t have deep pockets, and with so many choices out there, the market might be moving away from the premium subscription model. Advertising has become an increasingly dominant part of the Angie’s List business model. Still, a sale or merger with Home Advisor doesn’t really seem like an ideal marriage to us.


Source: Home Advisor

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