LivingSocial Strikes Deal in South Korea

(Reuters) – LivingSocial agreed to buy South Korean online daily deal provider TicketMonster in a stock-swap to expand further into the Asian market, the companies said on Tuesday, without disclosing the value of the deal.

The acquisition is LivingSocial’s largest to date and comes as the No. 2 U.S. daily deal player steps up overseas competition with Groupon, the biggest company in the sector.

Groupon, which filed for a $750 million initial public offering earlier this year, has done at least 13 acquisitions since May 2010. It started its international expansion that month with the purchase of CityDeal, a big European daily deal provider.

In its IPO filing, Groupon said it earned more than half its first-quarter revenue overseas and expects that to grow as it expands outside the United States.

LivingSocial has made nine acquisitions in the past year, including TicketMonster, South Korea’s largest online daily deal provider. Other deals include the purchases of InfoEther, Let’s Bonus, SocialMedia, Jump On It, Urban Escapes and GoNabbit. The company is part owned by Inc, the largest Internet retailer.

“It’s part of our repertoire and it’s a skill set that we’re good at,” LivingSocial chief executive Tim O’Shaughnessy told Reuters in an interview last week.

In June, LivingSocial bought Ensogo, a leading deal website in Thailand and the Philippines, along with DealKeren, an Ensogo company based in Indonesia.

“LivingSocial is playing catch-up a little with Groupon overseas,” said Peter Krasilovsky, a vice president and program director BIA/Kelsey, which tracks the daily deal industry.

LivingSocial has a large hoard of cash and is spending it on marketing and acquisitions for rapid expansion.

“This probably should help them as they move toward an IPO,” he added.

LivingSocial is meeting with banks to discuss an IPO of about $1 billion, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Expansion in Asia might be attractive because so many people own cell phones, Krasilovsky added.
Daily deals are usually distributed via email, but Groupon and LivingSocial launched so-called instant deal businesses this year. These use location information from cell phones to send discount offers from local businesses instantly to subscribers.

TicketMonster recently launched a location-based service called TMON NOW.

South Korea’s online daily deal industry, which offers consumers discounts for local businesses, is nascent but growing fast, with a number of players, including Groupon, joining to take advantage of the country’s high Internet penetration.

There are more than 500 online daily deal providers in South Korea, according to a spokeswoman at TicketMonster.

TicketMonster, which opened in May last year and has 600 employees, tops South Korea’s online daily deal sector with around 45 percent of the market and reported transactions worth 100 billion won ($95.2 million) in the first half of this year, the spokeswoman said.

“LivingSocial … plans to partner with TicketMonster for expansion in Korea and other Asian markets for the long term,” TicketMonster said in a statement, adding the deal was subject to regulatory approval in South Korea.

($1 = 1050.400 Korean Won)

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Alistair Barr; editing by Jonathan Hopfner and Andre Grenon)