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U.S. regulators approve Google’s Admeld acquisition

SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Justice Department approved Google’s acquisition of online advertising service Admeld after concluding the deal wouldn’t diminish competition in one of the Internet’s most lucrative marketing niches.

The decision announced Friday clears the way for Google Inc. to take control of Admeld six months after the companies agreed to the deal. Google said it plans to take control of Admeld within the next few days, although the two companies’ products will remain separate for a while longer.

It’s the fourth time since 2007 that that the U.S. government has taken a close look at a Google acquisition to determine if it would stifle competition or drive up prices. Google has gained regulatory approval in each instance. In 2008, though, Google backed out of a proposed partnership with Yahoo Inc. to avoid a legal battle with the Justice Department.

The Justice Department is still reviewing Google’s proposed takeover of cell phone maker Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. That $12.5 billion deal is the biggest in Google’s 13-year history.

The Federal Trade Commission is in the midst of a broader inquiry into whether Google has been abusing its dominance of Internet search to make it harder for people to find rival services and apply pressure on advertisers to pay higher prices. Google has consistently predicted that investigation will be resolved in its favor.

Google hasn’t disclosed how much it is paying for Admeld, a New York company that works with websites to help them figure out how to make the most money from the amount of space they have available for display ads. It’s a steadily growing field of advertising that emphasizes photos, video and illustrations instead of Google’s specialty of distributing text-based commercial links alongside search results.

The Justice Department said that privately held Admeld, formed in 2007, raised about $30 million in 2010 to help fund its operations.

Google generated revenue of about $29 billion last year and analysts expect it to surpass $38 billion in revenue this year. Most of Google’s revenue still comes from search advertising.

In an attempt to diversify beyond search advertising, Google bought DoubleClick for $3.2 billion in 2008. That deal is turning display advertising into a major moneymaker for Google, but the company’s market share in the segment still lags behind Facebook and Yahoo, according to the research firm eMarketer Inc.

That apparently helped sway the Justice Department to approve the Admeld deal.

“The investigation determined that Web publishers often rely on multiple display advertising platforms and can move business among them in response to changes in price or the quality of ad placements,” the Justice Department’s antitrust division said in a statement.

Google’s shares rose $7.13, or 1.2 percent, to $620.90 in late afternoon trading.