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Google becomes world's largest mobile ad network: 9 implications

The Federal Trade Commission has approved Google?s proposed $750 million acquisition of mobile ad network AdMob, stating the deal is unlikely to harm competition. What does this mean for the mobile advertising landscape?

The FTC said on Friday, May 21 that although the combination of the two leading mobile advertising networks raised serious antitrust issues, the agency?s concerns were overshadowed by Apple?s recent move to roll out a competing mobile ad network. Additionally, there are several firms that have initiatives in place to better compete against Apple?s iPhone and Google?s Android, and have strong incentive to facilitate competition in the space.

?As a result of Apple?s entry [into the market], AdMob?s success to date on the iPhone platform is unlikely to be an accurate predictor of AdMob?s competitive significance going forward, whether AdMob is owned by Google or not,? the FTC said in a statement to the press.

?Though we have determined not to take action today, the Commission will continue to monitor the mobile marketplace to ensure a competitive environment and to protect the interests of consumers,? the FTC said.

The deal has several implications for the mobile advertising ecosystem. Among them:

Apple has competition ? No doubt Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his top team will be locked in meetings this week to figure out their next strategy to thwart Google's progress in mobile. The approval is good news for advertisers and ad agencies. Apple needs a strong competitor in mobile ? now more than ever.

Validation ? This deal is further validation that mobile marketing is real, that the results are measurable and have considerable value and that mobile should be a factor, if not a central pillar, in any brand marketing strategy going forward.

More brands to enter mobile ? With the newfound validation of the mobile industry, expect an influx of major brands to the mobile bandwagon.

Mobile CRM ? With more mobile marketing activity in the near future, expect brands and agencies to finally understand that the channel can be used as part of a CRM strategy. Expect more list building and coupon campaigns.

Multichannel is here ? With the explosion of mobile activity, siloed campaigns are a thing of the past. Already, consumers? dependence on mobile has changed them forever. They want to be spoken to via the channels in which they spend the most time. These channels ? mobile, social media and online ? are going to be thrown in to the marketing mix, finally and with respectable budgets.

Growth of Android ? Along with a mobile advertising advantage, Google gets a significant amount of clickstream data and transaction records in and around iPhone applications from the acquisition. Expect Google to use all of this to grow Android.

More choice for brands and marketers ? This acquisition, as well as the Quattro/Apple deal, are giving advertisers and publishers more choice in the fast-growing area of mobile advertising. The deal will bring new innovation and competition to mobile advertising and will lead to more effective tools for creating, serving and analyzing emerging mobile ad formats.

Relevancy ? With all the data that Google is getting, ad relevancy will become its specialty. Users will see more relevant ads and ultimately get access to more free or low-cost ad-supported content and applications, improving their mobile experience.

Mobile advertising will grow - Gartner projects that the worldwide revenue for mobile advertising will be $13.5 billion in 2013, up from around $500 million in 2008. Up until now, Google has focused mainly on search advertising, but this deal signals that it has its sights set on display advertising on mobile.

Here are market researcher IDC's estimates on market share for the mobile ad networks (November 2009):

? Google and AdMob: 21 percent
? Millennial Media: 12 percent
? Yahoo: 10 percent
? Google: 10 percent
? Microsoft: 8 percent
? Quattro Wireless: 7 percent
? Jumptap: 6 percent
? AOL: 2 percent
? Nokia: 2 percent

Here is eMarketer's breakdown of mobile advertising share by mobile ad network:

FTC?s rationale
According to the FTC?s statement, evidence gathered by the agency raised important questions about the transaction.

Google and AdMob have competed head-to-head for the past few years, with a notable increase in intensity during the past year.

This competition has spurred innovation and allowed mobile publishers to keep a large share of the revenue generated from the sale of their ad space.

The companies also have economies of scale that give them a major advantage over smaller rivals in the business, the statement says.

However, these concerns were outweighed by recent evidence that Apple is poised to become a strong competitor in the mobile advertising market, the FTC?s statement says.

Apple recently acquired Quattro Wireless and used it to launch its own iAd service.

In addition, Apple can leverage its close relationships with application developers and users, its access to a large amount of proprietary user data, and its ownership of iPhone software development tools and control over the iPhone developers? license agreement.

The Commission vote to close the Google/AdMob investigation was 5-0.

What did the industry think of Google's approved acquisition of AdMob?

Susan Wojcicki, vice president of product management at Google, Mountain View, CA 
The FTC cleared our acquisition of AdMob, a mobile advertising startup.

We are excited to work with Omar Hamoui and his talented team at AdMob to develop new mobile advertising solutions for marketers, mobile application developers and mobile publishers.

The decision is great news for the mobile advertising ecosystem as a whole. This was reflected in the widespread industry support for our acquisition.

Throughout the FTC?s review process, it has been clear that mobile advertising is growing rapidly.

As mobile phone usage increases, growth in mobile advertising is only going to accelerate. This benefits mobile developers and publishers who will get better advertising solutions, marketers who will find new ways to reach consumers, and users who will get better ads and more free content.

We are very excited about the possibilities in this field.

As an immediate matter, we are now moving to close this acquisition in coming weeks. We will then start work right away on bringing AdMob?s and Google?s teams and products together.

This industry is moving fast, and we are excited to be part of the race.

Omar Hamoui, founder/CEO of AdMob, San Mateo, CA
We are extremely pleased with the FTC?s decision to clear Google?s acquisition of AdMob.

Over the past six months we have received a great deal of support from across the mobile industry ? and we deeply appreciate it.

We are excited to get to what is next and to start working with Google to develop new products and services for our advertisers, developers, and publishers.

We share a commitment to helping our customers navigate and take advantage of the mobile opportunity. Together, Google and AdMob will be able to bring a whole host of new products and capabilities to mobile advertising.

I have to pause to acknowledge the AdMob team. 

It takes a tremendous group to stay focused and remain productive during a process like this review.  

The Google deal was announced in November of last year. 

Rather than sit idle for six months, we have launched 15 new products, updated 11 more, and continued building a phenomenal business that is serving an ever growing base of customers. 

I could not be more grateful for all this group has done.

We will now work with Google to close the deal. Once that happens, we will finally get to the fun part ? connecting our teams and products to find ways to better serve our customers. Stay tuned.

Boris Fridman, CEO of Crisp Wireless, New York
I am hopeful that the AdMob acquisition by Google will result in making Apple more open to partnering with other companies that can add value to its advertising ecosystem.

Opening iAd to third-party ad serving and supporting third-party rich media ads would be an excellent way to drive more advertising to the Apple platform.

Noah Elkin, senior analyst at eMarketer, New York
The FTC recognized that the mobile advertising market is still evolving and in order for competition to persist, there needed to be a counterweight to Apple. 

The approval of Google's AdMob acquisition clears the way for the increasingly fierce battle between Google and Apple for supremacy in the mobile space to proceed full steam ahead.

But it also means that the playing field will stay open for other competitors, and that is an outcome that should benefit advertisers, publishers and networks alike.

Justin Siegel, CEO of Mocospace, Boston
I think the FTC made the right decision here.  It is a good outcome for Google, AdMob and the mobile advertising industry.

Alistair Goodman, CEO of Placecast, San Francisco
I am excited by this deal, and relieved that the mobile advertising and marketing industry is receiving this boost. 

Given the powerful location and time components of mobile ? particularly for retailers - we believe that the mobile market could garner at least $2 billion in ad spend within the next two years.

To achieve that, consumers and the industry need companies like Google attracting dollars and making it easier for advertisers to buy.

Simon Buckingham, CEO of Appitalism, Mobile Streams and Zoombak, New York
I don't think the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the mobile advertising industry should be allowed to merge to gain a dominant position in the market as this will increase mobile marketing costs for all players.
Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, Washington
Clearly, the entry of Apple into the mobile ad market changed the dynamics of what the Google/Admob deal would mean to competition.

However, the review by the FTC has helped regulators come up to speed on how the mobile marketing system affects consumers, including their privacy.

We will continue to press the commission to ensure mobile privacy is protected, especially in a field dominated by Google and Apple.

Michael Chang, CEO of Greystripe, San Francisco
Google's acquisition of AdMob is a great validation of the mobile advertising space, specifically the focus on in-application, which is the dominant reason for the acquisition. 

Deeper investigation by the FTC into the thriving and competitive mobile advertising industry with leaders such as Greystripe and most recently Apple, with its acquisition of Quattro, has led the FTC to approve the Google/AdMob deal. 

With AdMob and Quattro now both being acquired, Greystripe sees great opportunity as the leading independent mobile advertising network with an unbiased commitment to all major mobile platforms.

Paran Johar, chief marketing officer of Jumptap, New York
We still believe the acquisition is a strong validation of our industry and support free and competitive markets.

There are lots of big players from all types of industries trying to play in the space.

Here is the statement of the Commission concerning Google/AdMob
FTC File No. 101-0031
May 21, 2010

The Federal Trade Commission has voted 5-0 to close its investigation of Google?s proposed acquisition of AdMob.

The decision was a difficult one because the parties currently are the two leading mobile advertising networks, and the Commission was concerned about the loss of head-to-head competition between them.

The Commission reached this decision based on important developments in the mobile advertising marketplace, particularly actions by Apple that should mitigate the anticompetitive effects of Google?s AdMob acquisition.

Google and AdMob today are the leading competitors among mobile ad networks, which drive the availability of free or low-cost applications and content for smartphones and other mobile devices.

Mobile ad networks ?monetize? mobile publishers? content by selling publishers? advertising space; advertising revenues, in turn, fuel the development of mobile applications and Internet content.

Mobile application developers and other publishers rely on mobile ad networks to sell advertising space that they cannot effectively sell on their own.

Google?s proposed $750 million acquisition of AdMob necessitated close scrutiny because the transaction appeared likely to lead to a substantial lessening of competition in violation of Section 7 of the Clayton Act.

Those companies generate the most revenue among mobile advertising networks, and both companies are particularly strong in one segment of the market, namely performance ad networks.

The Commission?s six-month investigation yielded evidence that each of the merging parties viewed the other as its primary competitor, and that each firm made business decisions in direct response to this perceived competitive threat.

During the investigation, Apple acquired the third largest mobile ad network, Quattro Wireless, in December 2009 and then introduced its own mobile advertising network, iAd, as part of its iPhone applications package.

The Commission has reason to believe that Apple quickly will become a strong mobile advertising network competitor.

Apple not only has extensive relationships with application developers and users, but also is able to offer targeted ads (heretofore a strength of AdMob) by leveraging proprietary user data gleaned from users of Apple mobile devices.

Furthermore, Apple?s ownership of the iPhone software development tools, and its control over the developers? license agreement, gives Apple the unique ability to define how competition among ad networks on the iPhone will occur and evolve.

As a result of Apple?s entry, AdMob?s success to date on the iPhone platform is unlikely to be an accurate predictor of AdMob?s competitive significance going forward, whether AdMob is owned by Google or not.

This is particularly important given that AdMob?s revenue and market share are derived largely from the iPhone platform.
AdMob also competes with Google in the sale of mobile advertising on Google?s Android platform. Competitive harm from the acquisition appears unlikely there as well.

Android and iPhone compete against each other as platforms, and the availability of free or low-cost applications helps drive that competition.

Thus, Google has a strong incentive to encourage the development of applications on Android to maintain the competitiveness of Android against the iPhone.

As discussed above, these applications are often made available to consumers in their current low- or no-cost form through advertising provided by mobile ad networks like AdMob. To the extent Google were to exercise market power on Android after this acquisition, it would risk making Android less competitive against the iPhone and other platforms.

Further, as has been reported in the financial press, a number of firms appear to be developing or acquiring smartphone platforms to better compete against Apple?s iPhone and Google?s Android.

Because of the importance of advertising-supported content to the success of smartphone platforms, these firms would have a strong incentive to facilitate competition among mobile advertising networks, including through self-supply.

In sum, the Commission voted unanimously to close its investigation of Google?s acquisition of AdMob because it lacked reason to believe that the transaction would likely result in a substantial lessening of competition, especially in light of marketplace developments that occurred during the course of its investigation, including Apple?s acquisition of Quattro and its subsequent introduction of iAd.

In any nascent market there will be uncertainty about the path of competition and the durability of early leads in market share. In order to fully protect consumers, however, the Commission must subject mergers in nascent markets to the same level of antitrust scrutiny as mergers in other markets, taking into account all relevant information that becomes available during the course of an investigation.

Had the facts supported a challenge here, the Commission would not have hesitated to act to preserve competition in the mobile ad network market.

Though we have determined not to take action today, the Commission will continue to monitor the mobile marketplace to ensure a competitive environment and to protect the interests of consumers.