Some ad tech companies are getting out of the managed media business – and others are jumping in with both feet.
On Monday, mobile analytics company UberMedia sold its managed media business to location data platform Gimbal, marking the latter’s second acquisition of a media services unit in less than a year. Gimbal acquired Drawbridge’s managed media arm in May.
Terms were not disclosed but as part of its deal, Gimbal gets UberMedia’s US footprint, an agency-heavy book of business and 10 or so employees to manage it. UberMedia gets to focus exclusively on its data platform business.
Right around this time last year, cross-device provider Tapad offloaded its media business with social marketing tech firm Brand Networks.
“Media businesses can be great businesses, when you have scale, and we have scale,” said Gimbal CEO Rob Emrich, who declined to share financial terms for the deal.
But the managed media biz also comes with a host of challenges, including eroding margins, increased scrutiny of transparency, the threat of commoditization and a potential conflict of interest in selling media and data simultaneously.
When ad tech companies first started offering media services, said Forrester VP and principal analyst Melissa Parrish, the idea seemed to be: Entice ’em with the data and while you’re here, “Why not stick around for this easy-for-us-to-launch media service, too?”
“It was an easy way to grow accounts, since the technology and strategy pieces of managed media services businesses didn’t need to be invented,” Parrish said. “But today, there’s almost no differentiation among services offered by different companies and the margins are and always have been pretty low, so the motivation for keeping that offering around is waning.”
For Gladys Kong, UberMedia’s CEO, divesting the company of media services is about “streamlining and simplifying the business.”
“Our platform business is showing the strongest growth for us,” Kong said. “Our DNA is strongest in data, while managed media is a high-touch business.”
From Gimbal’s perspective, media services is adjacent to Gimbal’s primary location data and data cloud business, Emrich said, and offering media services is one way to introduce new customers to the overall platform.
But the grander vision centers on a combination of identity and location data.
“A big part of what we got from Drawbridge was an understanding of cross-device identity, and location is a really strong signal of intent,” Emrich said. “Our goal is to link identity and intent, to create a direct correlation between the two.”
Marketers are looking to understand their customers better, and tracking location is one way to do that – but it’s also a challenging time for players in the location data space from a privacy perspective. The city attorney for Los Angeles recently filed a lawsuit accusing IBM’s Weather Channel app of misleading users about how their data is being used, a move that could signal a world of legal pain waiting in the wings for companies that handle sensitive user data.
But Emrich isn’t worried.
“We’re not in the data buying business, and the way we work with location data is completely above board, so it’s only helpful to us, actually, when people get in trouble for not following the rules,” he said. “When there’s fear and risk, there’s a flight to safety.”
Gimbal attained profitability during the first half of 2018, Emrich said, and UberMedia is “very close” and shooting for profitability in 2019, according to Kong.