Google acquires GIF search giant Tenor for undisclosed amount


Since they were first developed by a team led by American computer scientist Steve Wilhite on June 15, 1987, GIFs have slowly and steadily taken over the world. Today, GIFs are virtually everywhere – on social media, in chats, in news articles, even in your keyboards. While the debate over how the word “gif” (or should we say “jif”?) is pronounced may never be settled, there’s little doubt that the humble image format is here to stay. Recognising the growing relevance of the GIF, search giant Google yesterday announced that it is acquiring Tenor, one of the world’s largest online GIF search engines and databases.

Image: Tenor

In a blog post published yesterday, March 27, Cathy Edwards, Director of Engineering, Google Images, wrote, “Most people now use Google Images to find more information about a topic, and to help them communicate and express themselves – case in point, we see millions of searches for GIFs every day. We’ve continued to evolve Google Images to meet both of these needs, and today we’re bringing GIFs more closely into the fold by acquiring Tenor, a GIF platform for Android, iOS and desktop...With their deep library of content, Tenor surfaces the right GIFs in the moment so you can find the one that matches your mood. Tenor will help us do this more effectively in Google Images as well as other products that use GIFs, like Gboard.”

Tenor was co-founded by David McIntosh (no relation to Apple), Erick Hachenburg, and Frank Nawabi in San Francisco in February 2014. The company was the first firm in the world to bring a “GIF keyboard” to iOS, a dedicated app where users could search for GIFs directly via their mobile keyboards and then use those GIFs in conversations. Tenor quickly followed its iOS launch with similar applications for the Android and MacOS platforms, and its growth has been steady ever since. The company claimed it had more than 300 million monthly active users by the end of 2017, and in fact hit a new peak in February this year – 12 billion GIF search requests, every month.

Tenor is today one of the biggest and most well-known GIF-related brands in the world, alongside competitor Giphy, and it’s little wonder that Google has expressed interest in acquiring the platform.

In a separate blog post, Tenor CEO David McIntosh wrote, “The acquisition will enable us to accelerate improvements to Tenor’s service for our users, API partners, content partners, and advertisers. Tenor will continue to operate as a separate brand to better serve you, and I will continue to lead the Tenor team alongside my co-founders Erick Hachenburg and Frank Nawabi.”

Neither company disclosed details of the deal, but according to a report by TechCrunch, Tenor has increasingly positioned itself as a search company, instead of just a database of images. The platform also has existing integrations with a large number of applications, including Gboard, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, Kik, Viber, Zynga, and Samsung Messages. The platform launched sponsored GIFs in late 2017, and has since worked with “dozens of major brands” for sponsored content, as well as set up content partnerships to source images from the likes of 20th Century Fox, 21st Century Fox, DreamWorks, Netflix, NBCUniversal, Paramount, Showtime, Sony, Warner Bros., Viacom, Vevo, etc.

Google’s acquisition of Tenor gives it access to all of these content and brand partnerships which could play a crucial role in the company’s push to move into new content channels.