Ad network Specific Media has begun expanding overseas, and acquired U.K.-based network Adviva.
The move is the "first step in the company's international expansion," said Specific Media co-founder and CEO Tim Vanderhook, noting the firm is looking at a number of other possibilities, particularly in the European, Asian and Australian markets. Adviva advertiser clients include BT, Lexus and Toyota.
Specific Media combines demographic, behavioral, contextual and geographic ad targeting, and Vanderhook said a key driver for the acquisition was the opportunity to extend its behavioral targeting system to reach a U.K. audience.
Specific Media claims to have anonymous data on the browsing activity of 365 million consumers worldwide, collected through a network of two million partner sites. Detailed analytic reports are given to site publishers in exchange for access to the data. Vanderhook described this relationship as a "data cooperation."
"The acquisition of Adviva gives us the opportunity to utilize the European portion of our data," he said. "Our network will bring real scale to behavioral ad targeting in the U.K." In the U.S., Specific Media's publisher partners include ABC, CBS, FOX, ESPN and Major League Baseball.
Some may draw comparisons between Specific Media's system and that of behavioral ad targeting companies such as Phorm, which uses data gathered from ISPs rather than specific sites.
"We're doing a similar thing to Phorm," said Vanderhook. "The difference is that we know a little less about a lot of people, whereas they have more detailed information about a smaller amount of users."
Specific media claims to reach nearly 80 percent of U.K. users, whereas Phorm's recent deal with U.K. ISPs gives the company access to between 50 and 60 percent, according to Screen Digest.
Vanderhook acknowledged that there were privacy issues surrounding behavioral targeting, regardless of how the data is collected. "Consumer privacy is of utmost importance here," he said. "In reality though, I think there are more privacy safeguards in online ads than in some offline mediums, such as direct mail."
Ultimately, the success of behavioral targeting companies such as Phorm and Specific Media could depend on user perception and adoption of their systems. Phorm has already found itself in hot water in terms of privacy, and its technologies are still yet to be deployed in the U.K.
"It's about the industry communicating what it's doing to the public," suggested Vanderhook. "It's just a question of how best to do this, and who should pick up the bill," he added.
Though they don't always publicize it, many behavioral targeting firms use data collected by publishers outside their ad networks to target ads to network sites. Specific Media allows users to opt out of having their Web interactions tracked, although they are opted-in by default.
The Adviva acquisition brings Specific Media's total employee count to almost 200. Vanderhook said the company will be hiring aggressively, and seeks to bring an additional 50 European staff on board over the next year.
The company's European headquarters will be based in London, and headed by Adviva's CEO and co-founder Todd Treusdell, who will serve as Specific Media's managing director, European Operations.
This story originally stated that ABC, CBS, FOX, ESPN and Major League Baseball are Specific Media advertiser clients; however, they are publisher partners.
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March 19, 2014