Facebook dives into mobile

Contact: Jarrett Streebin

In its eighth acquisition in the last six months, Facebook picked up Seattle-based rel8tion. The startup is only nine months old and still in stealth mode, but it appears to be focused on targeted mobile advertising using location and demographics – data that Facebook has tons of. With 200 million active mobile users globally, and demographics and location on them all, the social media giant is ripe for an ad network of its own.

Facebook already has two location features rolled out, Deals and Places. In addition, it has existing infrastructure with carrier partnerships and mobile apps, including a recently launched app for feature phones that drastically expands its market. These features along with the amount of demographic data that Facebook has on its users could make for a very profitable ad network.

In the next year, we’ll likely see Facebook mobile ads roll out in full. This will provide stiff competition to those in the local deal space, such as Groupon and others. Facebook will also compete with display ad networks that advertise based on search and user check-in, such as Google Offers-AdMob, Where Inc, xAD and other hyper-local advertisers. With Facebook already owning a massive chunk of mobile users’ bandwidth, it appears likely to own a large chunk of the mobile ad and deals space, as well.

Reality check for mobile ad networks?

-Contact Thomas Rasmussen

Mobile advertising startup Ad Infuse received an infusion of reality last week. The vendor, which has raised $18m in venture backing, had to put itself up for sale after it was unable to secure follow-on funding this year. After being shopped around since last summer, Ad Infuse sold for scraps to UK-based mobile advertiser Velti. We estimate that Velti paid less than $1m for Ad Infuse, which we understand generated just $1.3m in revenue in 2008.

The distressed sale of Ad Infuse comes on the heels of SmartReply’s tiny all-equity purchase of mSnap, as well as several deals involving other niche advertising networks this year. Where does this leave the remaining mobile ad networks that we were bullish on last year as the logical next step of growth for online ad startups?

We suspect there is more VC portfolio cleanout coming, since there are still too many mobile ad startups. That’s not to say there aren’t a few firms that haven’t had some success. For instance, three-year-old mobile ad network AdMob, which has successfully ridden the coattails of Apple’s iPhone AppStore’s rise by providing a way for iPhone developers to monetize their users through ads, is currently at an estimated $30m run-rate. (AdMob has raised nearly $50m to date from Sequoia Capital, Accel Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Northgate Capital.) And on a smaller scale, AdMarvel is just getting started with what we can best describe as a mobile version of the popular video ad startup Adap.tv. It has raised just $8m to date and is in the process of closing a $10m follow-on round, something its competitor Ad Infuse was unable to accomplish.

Much like what we anticipate will eventually happen in the online video ad space, there will soon come a time when ad giants such as Google and Yahoo will have to buy their way into the mobile sector. In a rare sign of foresight, AOL is the only media behemoth with a sizable presence in the mobile ad vertical following its $105m acquisition of Third Screen Media in 2007.