Mobile

The top 10 mobile advertising companies

mobile ads

With all of the activity and change going on in the mobile economy, VentureBeat has decided to create a “Mobile Advertising Index” to help find and track the most reliable companies in mobile monetization.

We’re curating a top 10 list to help ad buyers, mobile marketers and others make sense of the hundreds of vendors in this complex landscape.

Our intention is to point to the players with the momentum in the most interesting areas of mobile monetization.

We’ve kicked it off today by pointing to an initial list of companies [see below], based on interviews we’ve conducted with experts in the field. However, this is very much a preliminary list, one only meant to provoke feedback. We now want to open the discussion to the wider community. Our real index will be published on July 1, once we’ve heard from those among you who have really used the products. That’s why we’re making a call of action today. If you’ve used any of these products, or their competitors, please let us know what you think. Even after we get user input, this will be very much qualitative. But we plan to issue update reports frequently.


Now available: VentureBeat’s final report on the top 10 mobile ad networks is now available. More info here, and sign up to buy it here.


Hundreds of companies claim their rightful spot in the growing landscape. It’s true that our initial list may be biased toward display advertising. But we want to widen our lens to include everything from search, text messaging, radio ads, video and more. Some companies offer “blind” advertising, where they serve ads on sites regardless of site quality. Other companies offer advertising to only “premium” sites. In “programmatic” buying, machines do most of the work and help buyers select inventory automatically, including target things like demographics, location, and taste.


If you fill out a survey on one or more of the products below, we’ll offer you the results of our expanded report about these companies — for free.


We plan to add to this list over time. We’ll remove players, should they atrophy. Size plays a role in advertising because there are network effects, which means that scale is important. But we’re also looking for disruptors. Some, like Drawbridge, are showing promise with innovative models. That company is so early it didn’t make our selected list below.

Other questions remain about which companies belong in the survey and which ones don’t: Publishers like Facebook boast they have the most time spent on their mobile pages, and so advertisers should go directly to them. We’ll listen to survey respondents while making the decision about whether to add Facebook to our index. Google’s YouTube is huge. Twitter, and Pandora are others in this category. “Publishers have a stronger hand right now,” said digital media analyst Greg Sterling. These publishers own important data about their users, which enables for better targeting. However, that may change over time. Below we’ve focused on mobile platform companies offering reach beyond a single publisher.

Incidentally, many of the companies mentioned below, including Google, Facebook, Flurry, MoPub, and Tapjoy, will be participating in some way at our MobileBeat 2013 event next month.

If you fill out a survey on one or more of the products below, we’ll offer you the results of our expanded report about these companies — for free. For people who don’t participate, we’ll offer a summary report.

Google Admob Ads

Google is the indisputable No. 1 player in mobile. It was already the largest online advertising company when it acquired Admob, the biggest player in mobile ads, three years ago. It has since integrated Admob into its Adsense platform. Google’s Android, the world’s leading smartphone operating system, is also helping. Google is immensely profitable and has the most resources of any player to continue to invest in mobile. There’s no question Google will stay on this list for many years to come. The gossip: Google has shifted its attention somewhat to tablets at the expense of a laser-like focus on mobile smartphones. Phones continue to be a different beast thanks to their small screen. That leaves an opening for other players to serve parts of the smartphone market. You can find out more about Google Admob Ads here. Try it out and let us know what you think.

Millennial Media

Millennial started out as one of the big pure-play mobile advertising companies, along with Admob. Millennial has stuck it out, and is now the leading independent player in mobile outside of Google. Millennial’s challenge is that its costs are relatively high, as its main business is in serving premium ads, not programmatic buying. That raises the company’s costs, because it must pay for things like creative. This comes at a time when there’s a swing toward programmatic buying, which lowers costs considerably. Millennial recently acquired Metaresolver to address this need, and it’s offering a new product is in a private beta. Millennial’s laser focus on mobile, though, may help it serve mobile sites and app developers at a time when Google is losing that focus. Millennial is trying hard to innovate with mobile ad units, including going deep on video. The company has revenues in the $270 million range. However, it is still losing money. Matt Gillis, Millennial’s VP of global product and platform, told us that’s because the company is investing in the platform. Give Millennial Media a try, and let us know what you think.

Apple’s iAd

Apple’s iOS is the second most popular smartphone OS behind Google’s Android, and Apple has the most successful app store when it comes to revenue. How does this translate into ads? Well, Apple’s strong regulation of its ecosystem suggests it will be able to push its mobile advertising product, but the jury is still out. Apple hasn’t demonstrated that it can execute well in advertising. Apple acquired mobile ad company Quattro in 2010, but most of that company’s leadership team has left. The big question insiders are asking of Apple: “What are they doing?” Give it a whirl at Apple iAd, and let us know what you think.

Flurry

Flurry, founded in 2005, offers analytics to developers to track things like traffic, engagement, conversion, and ad revenue. It has also launched its own ad platform. There remains an inherit conflict of identity. Is Flurry really an impartial analytics player, or is it an aggressive broker of ad inventory? Flurry disagrees there is a conflict, saying its analytics are consistent with their other products. If Google has Adsense, Adwords, and Analytics, Flurry has all three analogous offerings, only more tightly intertwined. Flurry is likely to go public and grab more financial resources that way. Flurry has done a great job creating mind-share, in part by effective marketing. Last year, it raised its fourth round of funding, and it signaled it had hit a $100 million annual revenue run-rate. We’re hearing growth has continued. But the question about Flurry remains: “Who are they?” Give Flurry’s products a gander and let us know what you think.

InMobi

InMobi, founded in 2006, has raised $220 million from investors such as Softbank and Kleiner Perkins. Like a lot of the newer players, InMobi has focused on helping app developers expand their reach, driving app downloads internationally. It also has an ad network. It says it reaches 691 million unique users globally, second only to Facebook, and spans 40 percent of the global smartphone population — claiming its users see InMobi ads an average of 135 times a month. However, note that networks often get creative with reach statistics. Networks reach thousands sites through a myriad of exchanges. InMobi’s ad network reaches 165 countries. Insiders say the company’s revenue far exceeds $100 million, and so it has already surpassed older mobile advertising companies such as Jumptap. (Jumptap is worth a mention here: Founded in 2004, it says it serves ads for 70 of the Fortune 100 companies. The question for Jumptap is whether the company have the resources it needs to compete in the big leagues. The company had revenue “significantly higher” than $75M last year, and it continues to grow, the CEO said earlier this year.) If you’ve used InMobi, give it a try here

Chartboost

Chartboost has emerged as a leader in cross-promoting mobile game apps. Developers use it to increase the number of their mobile downloads. We’re hearing very good things about the execution ability of the management team. Other players in this category include Tapjoy, Fiksu, and Playhaven. Tapjoy was an early big player in this category, but it got stung badly when Apple penalized it for its practice of incentivizing downloads in ways that Apple disapproved of. Apple argued Tapjoy was gaming the App Store. Tapjoy has been restructuring, and it still has a reasonably sized business. We’ll watch this fast-changing space closely. Some insiders, though, give Chartboost the edge. Try out Chartboost and let us know what you think.

MoPub

This mobile ad exchange company has momentum: Within 18 months, and with just 65 employees, it has hit a $100 million revenue run rate, in the same time it took a eight-year old Flurry to do so. How? Simple: It capitalized on the rise of real-time bidding, offering a transparent exchange that cuts away the manual work created by the first generation of ad networks, where you have a sales person call on advertising accounts. Of course, if you’re a premium publisher looking for high CPMs, you may want to go elsewhere. But if you’re an app publisher looking to monetize quickly, this is the place. MoPub now claims the largest such exchange for mobile apps. (Google’s AdX would come next.) There are also other exchanges boasting size, such as Smaato in Europe, and Mobclix, since acquired by Europe’s Velti, a euro lotto online. So while MoPub competes with other exchanges, it has managed to boost inventory aggressively to assert top-dog status. Word is that MoPub is buying inventory it may not necessarily own, but it is controlling it nonetheless, and in the end, advertisers don’t really care as long as MoPub can show them the biggest reach. Founder and CEO Jim Payne is well regarded. He previously was a lead product guy at Google and Admob. The challenges: There’s a question about the real size of this market. [Update: Our sources originally had told us MoPub was burning a “crazy” amount of cash. However, we’ve heard from MoPub’s Payne, who says that’s not true: “Since we have scaled revenue we have absolutely solved that in 2013.”]  Let us know what you think after you try out MoPub’s exchange.

Amobee

Many people have dismissed this company as an also-ran. Early on, Amobee focused its business on serving large international mobile carriers, and those carriers are no longer as relevant as they used to be. The large Singapore carrier, Singtel, acquired Amobee for $321 million last year. But Amobee has since grown significantly by shifting its focus to the Asian market, in part because of the significant backing of its new owner, which is helping push Amobee into its numerous operator subsidiaries. The company is focusing its offerings on large enterprise customers that spend between $500,000 to a $1 million a month on advertising. CEO Trevor Healy tells us he large enterprise customers want soup-to-nuts, that is, everything from creative to copy, strategy, media buying, direct marketing, and mobile messaging in one place. And that also includes real-time bidding. “We take your hand and hold it,” Healy says. The company will hit $100 million revenue this year, and management aims to hit $250 million within 24 months. This clearly puts it into the ranks of the top players by revenue. And Amobee has some interesting announcements in the works (stay tuned). It is showcasing its main offerings in the Asian region, but it intends to keep bringing its offerings to the U.S. market as well. Velti is another international player offering a full service product, and it’s no slacker, at $187 million in revenue last year. But like Millennial, it isn’t profitable. Kick the tires on Amobee‘s products, and let us know what you think.

Euclid Analytics

This company is early but it has figured out a hard technology problem. It knows how to detect a consumer’s device using surrounding Wi-Fi networks and then tell when that consumer is, say, in the mall, and whether they have passed by a particular store or actually gone inside. It’s promise is to offer a sort of Google Analytics for the physical world. It is not directly a mobile monetization play in the sense of advertising, but if it pulls off its promise, Euclid can be an effective enabler for marketing. The company has conducted pilots for Proctor & Gamble and Macy’s. It offers retailers a way to counter showrooming. To be sure, this is the most untested company on this list, having practically no revenue. And there are serious privacy concerns (note how quickly Nordstrom backed off when it was signaled out as a user of the technology). Politicians like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are pushing for opt-in policies for consumers, which could slow adoption. We’ll look for revenue from this company next year. It has made our list because it’s on to something exciting — it’s a gutsy play right on the edge of what the public will consider acceptable. There are other companies, like PlaceIQ, that match place and context, but for most of these it’s unclear what their big ad play will be. If you’re a retailer, try out Euclid, and share your experience.

HasOffers

This company offers a software that helps developers track the performance of their ads. It tracks actions such as installs and purchases all the way back to the originating source of the person making that install or purchase. The company is still early, having been founded only four years ago, but it has won traction because it does something very valuable for publishers — enabling them to know who their most valuable users are, and where they come from. HasOffers is not an ad network itself. This consoles publishers, because HasOffers won’t have an incentive to try to trade on its inside information by routing valuable users to other clients. It also helps developers avoid having to download SDKs from multiple advertising networks. HasOffers can become the standardized SDK to help publishers look across the network to find where users actually come from. The company’s customers include SuperCell, HotelTonight, Spotify, LivingSocial, Electronic Arts, Square, and Yahoo. It was bootstrapped until earlier this year, when it raised $9.4 million in a round led by Accel Partners. HasOffers also offers a white-labeled software for networks, agencies and media buyers. Try out either of HasOffers’ products, and let us know what you think.


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