Supplying internet access to airplanes, oil rigs, cruise ships, and other far-flung places is a growing business opportunity, according to Global Eagle Entertainment Inc.
And so the Marina del Rey in-flight Wi-Fi and entertainment provider placed a $550 million bet that it could dominate the market for internet access in hard-to-reach places, striking a deal to acquire satellite communications firm Emerging Markets Communications in a cash-and-stock deal.
Emerging Markets of Miramar, Fla., provides satellite communications for a variety of distant places, such as seagoing yachts and commercial vessels, as well as remote land outposts.
Global Eagle makes money by charging a fee to airlines for every device on a plane that connects to the internet. It posted revenue of $426 million last year, up from $33.6 million in 2011. Once the acquisition closes, the resulting operation is expected to generate pro forma revenue of between $660 million and $690 million this year.
Heavily reliant on its airline business – Southwest Airlines accounted for 23 percent of revenue last year – the addition of Emerging Markets would help Global Eagle diversify revenue streams, share infrastructure costs, and create opportunities to sell movies and TV entertainment on cruise ships.
“It’s beyond just putting movies in the cabin on the cruise ship, but being able to integrate our portal, and being able to make it a more interactive and engaging experience,” said Kevin Trosian, the company’s senior vice president of investor relations, “everything to providing games for the kids to letting people know what the next activities are.”
Shares of Global Eagle fell about 5 percent, or 42 cents, after the deal was announced, closing May 11 at $7.87. The company’s stock price has slid more than 40 percent over the last year.
Despite some notable upsides to the acquisition, the remote communications business is not well understood, Andrew Spinola, a senior analyst at Wells Fargo Securities in New York, wrote in a research note.
“We are optimistic on the potential benefit of combining these two companies and see clear strategic logic to scaling the satellite network,” he wrote, “but are cautious on the investment merits because of the size of the acquisition coupled with how little we know about the acquired business.”
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