TripAdvisor sold to Liberty Media

The online travel company's year of independence ends as chief stakeholder Barry Diller turns over stock.

By Jason Notte Dec 11, 2012 4:37PM

Family of three loading car with luggage, low angle view -- Juice Images, Cultura, Getty ImagesThe next time you use TripAdvisor (TRIP) reviews to book a room at a little bed and breakfast, be sure to thank the big media conglomerate that just took control of it.


TripAdvisor was an independent, publicly traded company for roughly a year before media executive and chief stakeholder Barry Diller sold his shares to Liberty Media (LMCA) on Tuesday. The 4.8 million shares previously held by Diller and his Diller-Von Furstenburg Foundation sold for $62.50 a share -- nearly 40% more than TripAdvisor's roughly $38 share price when the market closed on Monday -- and gave Liberty 57% of the company's voting shares.


Liberty has held a stake in TripAdvisor for a few years and still owns shares of its former parent company Expedia (EXPE), which spun off TripAdvisor last December. Now the travel site joins a collection of holdings that includes the Atlanta Braves, QVC, the Starz family of television channels, Evite and Proflowers.com and a company that's still fixated on taking over Sirius-XM (SIRI) satellite radio.


TripAdvisor hasn't exactly been a mom-and-pop shop in some time. Four years after it was founded by current chief executive Stephen Kaufer, it was snatched up by Diller's InterActiveCorp (IACI) and placed in a huge Web portfolio that now includes Match.com, Dictionary.com, Vimeo, Newsweek/The Daily Beast and Internet relics like Excite and Ask.com. TripAdvisor was then spun off into Expedia, which used it to vacuum up smaller online travel properties like SmarterTravel and FlipKey.


Even when Expedia spun it off last year, TripAdvisor's media group still held nearly 20 online travel brands in more than 25 countries. Under Diller's watch, it grew from a startup with $23 million in annual revenue to a company worth more than $5 billion.


"Ever since we acquired TripAdvisor in 2004 it's been one of the smoothest and most trouble-free growth stories I've ever known," Diller said in the company's sale announcement Tuesday.


Still, on the same day that Delta (DAL) took a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic and got prime spots at London's Heathrow airport and increased access to European and Asia in return, travelers have reason to be concerned about consolidation. Just last month, Priceline.com (PCLN) acquired travel search engine Kayak (KYAK) for nearly $2 billion, somewhat nullifying Kayak's existence as a comparison spot for sites like Priceline, Travelocity, Expedia and others.


Liberty Media has long held an interest in both Expedia and TripAdvisor. While it doesn't have full control of the former, its big move for the latter keeps a collaboration or possible reunion on the table. TripAdvisor has survived and thrived during big media consolidation before, but consumers and reviewers may see more changes and partnerships if TripAdvisor takes an extended stay in conglomerateland this time around.


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