This year, the App Store turned 10 years old. I'm fortunate to have witnessed the challenges and opportunities of this vibrant ecosystem throughout all these years, first as part of a mobile game studio (Tapulous, acquired by Disney) and then as a co-founder of an in-app advertising platform (Chartboost). Here is a summary of how I believe the future of mobile in-app ad tech will evolve in the next three to five years. This will hopefully save you research time, provide clarity and make you a bit more informed about where to place your bets on partnerships, investments, a road map and more.
Before we get started, a basic clarification: Mobile in-app advertising is not the same as mobile web advertising. There are two key differences: 1) cookie tracking vs. device IDs, and 2) real-time ads vs. delayed or cashed ad delivery. These differences have proven to be extremely hard to reconcile, resulting in several long, painful, time-consuming failed partnerships between desktop and in-app key players. Partnerships that often start among company leaders full of hope and get abandoned nine months later by frustrated integration teams.
A big part of what's happening in the mobile in-app advertising industry is similar to what happened on the desktop. But the intrinsic differences between the two platforms are fostering faster changes and more opportunities for newcomers to lead the transformation.
Appnexus (recently bought by AT&T), Rubicon, Index, Criteo and Amazon are the current dominant players (outside of the Google and Facebook duopoly) that started on the web, built billions of dollars in value and have declined now in the times of mobile. These companies do have mobile web, but the data shows that engagement happens in-app. This is like telling a sea lion that the future is above water. They can breathe but they can’t run.
Mobile in-app advertising is about to endure a profound transformation that will change the dynamics of the current ecosystem and turn it upside down. I believe the innovation dilemma will cause many to fade away, and new transparency-first programmatic solutions will rise. It’s a shakeup that will be painful at first, but overall, it will deliver a healthier, cleaner and better set of partners for app developers to monetize their content. But before we get to that, let me go through a little bit of history.