Digital ad firm Taboola set to start trading following SPAC merger

Technology

Taboola founder and chief executive Adam Singolda
Andreas Rentz | Getty Images

Digital ad company Taboola is set to begin trading Wednesday following its merger with ION Acquisition Corp. 1, a special acquisition corporation. 

ION shareholders voted to approve the business combination in a special meeting Monday. The transaction will generate $526 million upon closing, and shares will begin trading on the Nasdaq Wednesday under the ticker “TBLA.” 

Taboola places content recommendation boxes on the web sites of publishers (including CNBC). Those boxes recommend pieces of content from a publisher’s own site along with promoted recommendations that advertisers pay for. Taboola makes money when it’s paid by advertisers, and it shares that revenue back with the publisher. The company says more than 13,000 advertisers use its network to reach over 500 million daily active users on the sites of more than 9,000 publishers.

The company said it reported revenue of $303 million and net income of $18.6 million in the first quarter of 2021. 

Taboola sees its opportunity in the tens of billions of dollars spent advertising on the “open web,” or on the internet on sites outside of the “walled gardens” of Google or Facebook

“There’s no Google for the open web, there’s no Facebook for open web, there’s no big company serving publishers on the open web and giving advertisers access to that open web, and Taboola wants to be that company,” founder and CEO Adam Singolda said in an investor presentation earlier this year.

He said the company’s recommendation engine will help it surface feed-like streams of content based on users’ interests — think of an Instagram feed, but on a publisher site. 

“As I think about our business, I think of Taboola as a search engine but in reverse,” he said in the presentation. “Instead of expecting people to type things they know and look for information, like travel information, news, or products, Taboola is providing them with recommendations for content and things they might like but just never knew existed.” 

The future of Taboola will be about recommendation engines for items beyond articles, such as e-commerce items, videos, games or apps, Singolda says. 

“I want to recommend more things,” he told CNBC in an interview last week. Singolda said he believes recommendation engines will be a major piece of the open web moving forward.

The company also seeks to place recommendations on more devices, such as cars and connected TVs.

“Over the next ten years, I think that especially as younger audiences will interact with different [devices], we want to use all of this index of content we have globally … and surface it wherever you might be,” he said. 

Taboola and competitor Outbrain said in October 2019 they planned to merge in hopes of becoming a bigger competitor to digital advertising giants such as Google and Facebook. But nearly a year later, the merger talks ended after the companies failed to agree on revised deal terms. Outbrain filed for initial public offering on Tuesday.

The company is the latest in a slew of ad tech players to go public in recent months, including PubMatic, Viant and Kubient.  

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