Forecast: Mobile Makes Facebook Number Two Digital Ads Platform after Google

Research and data aggregator eMarketer is projecting that US mobile ad spending will be roughly $9.6 billion this year and reach a surprisingly high 22% of digital ad revenues. It's possible, given the surge in mobile in the second half, that we'll see something between $7 and $8 billion in US mobile ad spending this year. However the nearly $10 billion eMarketer prediction is too aggressive for 2013. 

More interesting than whether mobile ad spending is $7.5 billion or $9.6 billion is the fact that eMarketer anoints Facebook as the second largest digital ad platform globally (behind Google) because of the rapid growth of the company's mobile revenues. And those mobile revenues will be further accelerated by Facebook's recent video-ads announcement.  

Back in very early 2010 we speculated about Facebook's impending entry into mobile advertising:

Let's talk about what may be coming sooner rather than later: Facebook as a mobile ad network and one that offers location (and potentially demographics) as part of that proposition. There are currently no ads on Facebook's apps, mobile websites or SMS. I would almost bet my life that's going to change in the near-to-medium term.

Facebook will be clever and careful about integrating advertising into mobile, mindful of the potential to alienate mobile users. However the mobile ad opportunity may be at least as big for Facebook as it is on the PC.

Emarketer speculates that Facebook will make just over $3 billion in net US ad revenue this year (against global gross ad revenue of nearly $7 billion). By comparision, Google will make $17 billion in net US ad revenue. Google's worldwide gross ad revenue this year is likely to be roughly $50 billion.

Emarketer places local search and directory publisher YP in the third position regarding mobile ad revenue in the US. But because YP basically doesn't sell mobile ads (except at the margins) this once again raises the question: what is a "mobile" ad?

Most of YP's ads are simply distributed in mobile rather than being intended by the small business advertiser for specific mobile exposure. Yet this is equally true of ads that appear on both Twitter and Facebook; and Google now also "bundles" PC and mobile ads as a practical matter -- as a way to boost its mobile ad revenue. 

 

If we define "mobile advertising" as any ad that appears on a mobile device and where simple exposure (e.g., CPM) and/or a subsequent user action (e.g., CTR) triggers a billable event then we're going to see mobile ad revenues grow extremely quickly and put up some pretty big numbers. That's because in this context mobile ad revenue becomes largely function of mobile adoption/usage and how much of that usage is "monetized" through existing ad inventory. 

Facebook's new video ad product or YouTube pre-roll ads for that matter are a case in point: these ads can appear on the PC or mobile without being specifically modified or even intended for the medium. Thus simple mobile distribution will grow Facebook revenues attributable to mobile. The most engaged Facebook users are on the smartphone app daily; that's going to boost ad revenues attributed to mobile very quickly. 

In essence, mobile ad revenue becomes an accounting issue rather than a technology or ad-creative question. Of course the ad platform itself has to be capable of distributing and rendering those ads appropriately on the device before you can be "platform agnostic."