The mobile ad business has barely gotten off the ground, but it’s already got an early winner: AdMob, a mobile ad network that serves up some 3 billion impressions a month. VentureBeat’s Matt Marshall thinks the company is close to breaking even on about $14 million in net revenue. In a few years, Matt figures, AdMob will be an IPO candidate.
Our worry: That in a few years, AdMob will find itself pushed out of the industry it helped pioneer.
That’s because AdMob specialises in delivering ads designed for crappy phone browsers. But the latest browsers, like the Apple (AAPL) iPhone’s MobileSafari, are designed to mostly bypass slimmed-down mobile Web sites, and display full-size, hi-fi Web sites and ads. We think all smartphones, and most “dumb” phones, will eventually have a browser like this.
Perhaps more important than what Web pages look like: As Pinch Media founder (and former Yahoo/Right Media employee) Greg Yardley points out, an iPhone’s browser loads an ad the same way a computer does — not the same way a Motorola Razr does. So if the iPhone is just loading a normal Internet ad in a custom size, there’s no real need for a special mobile ad network.
Any online ad network out there could start competing for the best part of [mobile ad network] AdMob’s business tomorrow — they don’t need new technology, they just need the phone-sized creatives. So while AdMob’s in a good spot, the sweetest spot of their business is no longer technically defensible. They (and any other company focused on exclusively the ‘mobile’ web) are undoubtedly going to have a lot more competition in the near future.
We think Yardley’s right. In the long term, we see “mobile” as an Internet advertising feature or characteristic, not a separate industry led by unique ad networks. So as smartphones with advanced browsers become more popular, we think mobile advertising will be rolled into broader Internet advertising.
What could derail this theory? If the mobile Web fails to capture a broad audience. If smartphones with great browsers never become more than high-end, niche gadgets. Or if carriers, nervous about losing their place in the mobile ad market to Google, keep making it painfully expensive for consumers to use phones with advanced Web browsers. (See: Rogers’ best efforts to sell zero iPhones in Canada.) But if the mobile Web — in its fully fledged form — takes off, AdMob could have a real problem.
Update: Thanks to AdMob founder/CEO Omar Hamoul for his excellent response in the comments below. The gist: Even as mobile browsers get better, there will still be a need for mobile-specific advertising and ad networks like AdMob.