Eight months after acquiring the company for around $300 million, Apple announced today that it will be closing the mobile ad network operated by Quattro Wireless in order to focus its efforts on its newly launched iAd product. Meanwhile, competing network Millennial Media is rumored to be in acquisition talks with handset manufacturer RIM, as major companies scramble to snap up emerging players in the bourgeoning mobile advertising space.
According to the Quattro wireless site and a memo sent to its advertisers today, Apple is no longer accepting new campaigns and "will soon begin winding down existing campaigns." As of September 30th, it will support ads exclusively for its iAd network, completely killing off Quattro's legacy business.
In one sense the news is unsurprising, given that Apple launched an entirely new network for the iAd and will likely want to drive its advertisers towards that product. But the decision also means Apple no longer has the ability to sell on other platforms, meaning its ad sales operations are now limited exclusively to its own devices. For example, through Quattro it had access to inventory on platforms such as Google's Android.
"I’m not surprised. I thought it would happen sooner," commented Boris Fridman, CEO of mobile rich media ad technology provider Crisp Wireless, which integrates with a range of mobile ad networks. "Credibility of Quattro as a multi-channel ad network has suffered; they could no longer represent all of the publisher inventory effectively... They had access to inventory on Android and feature phones, but they were also losing credibility as an honest broker, in my view."
Regardless of Quattro's diminished market perception following the Apple acquisition, the news will be welcomed by the other major ad networks in the mobile space, such as Jumptap, Millennial Media, InMobi, and Google's AdMob.
Fewer players in the market means more inventory and advertiser dollars up for grabs, assuming Quattro's customers don't divert their spend directly to the iAd network. That seems unlikely since iAds are currently being pitched firmly at big brand advertisers and with hefty up front price tags, which are unlikely to appeal to smaller, direct response advertisers, including those in the mobile content and commerce space that continue to account for the majority of spending on the channel.
"This is wonderful news for us," said Jumptap CMO Paran Johar. "The fact that Apple is focusing on iAd means they're abandoning performance, and also going after a very limited amount of advertisers that can pony up a million dollars for a campaign. There's a whole slew of advertisers below that," he added.
Johar also suggested Apple may have to rethink its strategy down the line if it wants to play a major role in the mobile advertising ecosystem. "Apple's approach is very much a closed platform, but advertisers want to reach consumers across a range of platforms and devices," he said. Fridman agreed, stating, "I understand Apple’s focus but agencies are looking to reduce friction rather than increase it. They are looking for cross-platform, multi-channel solutions to maximize reach."
Elsewhere in the mobile ad space, handset manufacturer RIM is reportedly in talks to buy Millennial Media, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. Millennial has been in talks with multiple potential buyers over the past six months, and has suggested it may instead choose to go public.
A large portion of Millennial's inventory currently comes from Apple devices, but an acquisition from RIM would see it fall foul of Apple's recently updated developer terms, which state ads cannot be used from a network affiliated with a handset manufacturer. RIM could, however, choose to pursue a similar strategy to Apple, and use a firm such as Millennial to attempt to take control of ads served to its own devices, potentially using proprietary formats similar to Apple's iAd.So far Apple is not enforcing those terms, however, with ads from AdMob still currently permitted on its applications despite the fact it's owned by Google.
Johar said Jumptap itself has been approached by numerous companies regarding partnerships and mergers, but that its core focus is currently growing its own business.
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Jack Marshall was a staff writer and stats editor for ClickZ News from 2007 until August 2011.