Can telcos challenge mobile advertising’s ‘big two’ - Google & Facebook?

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Mobile operators are upping investment in ad tech companies, with advertisers welcoming the move in the hope it will break-up Facebook and Google’s diarchy over the digital media business.

That’s the feedback from panellists including representatives from M&C Saatchi Mobile, S4M and Tune at this week’s Mobile Breakfast hosted by The Drum where attendees both shared and debated some the major themes raised Mobile World Congress 2016 (MWC).

In the run-up to and during MWC, multiple telcos flexed their muscles in terms of tech capability, with the IoT, the huge potential posed by the mammoth capabilities of 5G networks, and virtual reality all generating much of the show’s headlines.

However, it was in the mobile advertising sector where they particularly showed their mettle. This took shape in two forms, both carrot and stick. The former was in evidence when O2-owned Weve revealed that it is making its audience data available to advertisers via its sister unit the Telefonica-owned mobile ad exchange Axonix.

More drastically it was Three’s deal with Shine Technologies that will see it agree to block ads that showed operators are now a force to be reckoned with in the advertising game.

However, despite the difficulties posed by the latter, panellists at The Drum’s event agreed that the presence of mobile operators would lead to more plurality in the market, and could pose as serious rivals to Facebook and Google when it comes to audience targeting.

Panellist Libby Robinson, UK managing director of M&C Saatchi Mobile, spoke about how some agencies were beginning to contemplate the adjustment to this new world order, revealing that some are going as far as to contemplate paying ‘carrier fees’, whereby they would effectively have to pay operators to ferry the ads served on their network.

However, despite the potential additional levy, the multitude of data points, plus the aforementioned ability to reduce their reliance on the ‘big two’ of mobile advertising was universally welcome.

In fact the cross-screen targeting capabilities of quad-play operators (i.e. those that offer broadband, TV, fixed-line and mobile services) would be superior to that of the aforementioned ‘big two’, according to fellow panellist Simon Baptist, director of business development at Tune.

Also on the panel was Frederic Joseph, COO of S4M, who also pointed out that if operators remained ‘open’ (as opposed to the ‘walled gardens’ posed by the big two) then they will be serious contenders in the market.

Speaking separately with The Drum, Peter Globokar, a partner at Mooreland Partners, an outfit that helps broker M&A activity in the mobile content and advertising space, said: “Mobile operators are starting to assert their ownership of the customer, and you can expect to see more of them buy into the space [such as Verizon’s purchase of AOL].

“AT&T was heavily rumoured to be a bidder on Opera MediaWorks, and you can look at SingTel’s investment in the area. If operators get the right assets then you could see them move ahead of Facebook and Google on every phone.”

The Drum's Marketing on Mobile Awards (Momas) will take place on 18 May with more information on how to enter available here.