Yesterday, on the IAC earnings conference call, CEO Barry Diller said that he’d be open to selling Ask.com. The media took off with the comments as if they were new and a deal was imminent. It’s not.
A source familiar with the matter said there are currently no talks about an Ask.com acquisition or spinoff. Diller’s comments were made in response to constant questions that IAC receives regarding their willingness to sell Ask.com. Their response has always been the same.
So why did everyone run with Diller’s comments as if they were new? The “buzz” is probably more of a reaction to the recent Microsoft-Yahoo! deal plus the fact that IAC has, in fact, sold or spun off a bunch of companies in recent years. It’s kind of what Barry Diller does.
Actually, Ask.com is a cash cow for IAC. This is something that often gets lost in the “search wars.” The conversation is always framed about stealing search share from Google. But you don’t have to have a ton of search share to be profitable.
If Diller is going to sell, it’s going to need to be a sweet deal to make up for losing one of IAC’s top three revenue-generators. Google probably has too much antitrust scrutiny right now. Microsoft has cash to burn, and it wouldn’t be the first time speculation has been made about Microsoft buying Ask. Plus, in case you didn’t notice, Bing imitated a lot of what we saw in Ask 3D. You have to think that adding 4% search market share all at once has crossed Steve Ballmer’s mind. It would be a nice cherry on top of the deal struck with Yahoo!
So, yes, there’s a likelihood that Ask.com will probably be sold at some point, but there’s always been that chance.