Opera Mediaworks chief executive Mahi de Silva is on a roll.

Silva heads up one of the biggest mobile ad platforms in the country. Opera Mediaworks bought AdColony in June for a sum that hasn’t been publicly disclosed. Owned by a Norwegian firm called Opera Software ASA, Opera Mediaworks did $120 million in revenue last year, a number expected to nearly double by the end of 2014.

De Silva is a mobile advertising veteran who keeps a close eye on the rapidly changing and expanding mobile ad space. Mobile was a nearly $18 billion industry last year, a number expected to crest $35 billion by the end of 2014, according to analysts. De Silva wants a bigger piece of it and hasn’t ruled out more acquisitions this year.

In fact, Opera Mediaworks owns 17 percent of the global market in mobile display advertising, serving more than 65 million ads per month in markets around the world that matter. Opera Mediaworks works with almost 95 percent of the world’s top 100 global advertisers.


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The ambitious de Silva took time from his hectic schedule to speak about why Facebook will eclipse Google for the number one spot in mobile advertising revenue by 2016, why Google has dropped the ball in display advertising, and how consolidation in the mobile space is already well underway.

VentureBeat: Your biggest competitor is Google?

Mahi de Silva: On a more holistic basis, our biggest competitor is Google, in the broad spectrum of services they do. Where we overlap is the mobile display space. In terms of public companies, Millennial Media have been somebody we compete with. We are significantly larger than Millennial in terms of revenue, footprint, and volume and every other business metric that is out there.

VentureBeat: You hear that Facebook will overtake Google as the number one player in mobile in terms of ad revenue within a year. What’s your take?

De Silva: If you look at the display market, they are already number one. Facebook could be number one on a combined basis. If it’s not next year, it might be in 2016. They are the most interesting company to watch right now.

What’s really interesting, if you think about the ascendancy of companies like Facebook in the space, is a lot of people think of them as the number two behind Google. But in fact, in the display space, they’re number one. They are number one by a significant margin over Google. This is something that the market really doesn’t understand. Just because you are the hundred million pound gorilla in search does not translate into being a really big significant player in display. This has always been a weakness for Google, somewhat muted by the fact that desktop browser advertising, you know, every interaction out there, basically starts with search.

With mobile and the preponderance of in-app interaction versus browser interaction, Google isn’t getting the same traffic, the same amount of traction. A few years ago they bought AdMob, and they haven’t done a good job preserving that value proposition as a publisher. So they are less and less relevant in the display space, while companies like Facebook are becoming more relevant.

VentureBeat: The mobile ecosystem is massive, with over 500 players in the space. Some analysts and executives say a shakeout is long overdue. Are they right?

De Silva: The mobile ad space continues to grow faster than any other ad space when you compare it to desktop interstitial or compare it to any other medium. The eyeballs are there. The users are there. The devices are there. I think people have predicted the 2017 time frame where mobile will actually eclipse desktop. When you look at 2015, I think you’ll start to see certain brands around the world make that shift (to mobile) in the next 12 to 18 months because the yield they’re getting on engagement and metrics really matters. What mobile is able to do for some of these sectors is superior to what desktop can deliver to them.

I think you’ve already started to see it [shake out], right? If you look back to just a few years ago, like 2012, there was a lot more ad networks, more exchange wannabes, so the market has pretty rapidly consolidated.

VentureBeat: What’s your biggest challenge in mobile heading into 2015?

De Silva: Our value proposition is trying to be horizontally focused on brands and premium publishers. Whether they are the CPG guys, the automotive guys, or even the gaming guys. We help deliver engagement and commerce for these guys. So the friction in the market is that you still have a web of old-world technologies like Dart that’s deployed across the publisher infrastructure and the advertising infrastructure, which has not kept in step with where the market is heading, and that’s eroding their relevance in these markets. Companies look to us to solve those problems, specifically for mobile. The way we overcome that is to continue to deliver great technology and great monetization power for these brands.

VentureBeat: How many clients do you have across the mobile spectrum?

De Silva: On the publisher side we count 18 of the top 25 media companies. We power north of 18,000 sites and applications. The focus is brands. On the advertiser side we have on our platforms, we run campaigns for 89 of the top 100 global advertisers. We focus on the cream of the crop. Unlike desktop, in mobile so much of the monetization power is concentrated at the upper end of the market.

VentureBeat: Mobile video ads is a space that is projected to be worth $40 billion in five years. Are you guys paying attention?

De Silva: We’re huge fans of mobile video. We bought AdColony. These guys have the best technology in mobile video. We’ve been able to bring that technology to many of our publisher customers. And we’ll continue to do that for the full spectrum of ad sales. If you are a publisher that has a direct sales force, you get the benefit of our technology platform. If you need a third-party demand, we’re bringing you scale. We feel like we have the best mobile video technology and the broadest spectrum of solutions, and today our business is trending towards almost half our revenues coming from video ads.

VentureBeat: Will Opera Mediaworks start the new year by buying more companies? 

De Silva: In a consolidating market, we are a consolidator. I think we are pretty patient. We just don’t go out there and buy revenue or fill holes like some of our competitors do. M&A will be an important part of our strategy.