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5 Mobile Ad Players That May Be Acquisition Targets

Location, rich media and video players look lucrative

Mobile advertising is still a fragmented space. Photo: Getty Images

AOL is reportedly in talks to buy mobile ad network Millennial Media for $300 million to $350 million, which would let AOL sell ads within thousands of apps and give it access to more data and better targeting tools. But industry players said there are other mobile companies up for grabs.

Rumors about the Baltimore-based Millennial Media's acquisition have been circling for a couple of years after it bought companies like Nexage and Jumptap to build data into its network of 65,000 apps. If Millennial were to indeed get snatched up, Rachel Pasqua, MEC's North America mobile practice lead, said that finding another company with its value on the market would be tough.

"I'm sitting here thinking, 'Who the heck would I put besides Millennial?'" Pasqua said.

Here are 5 companies that could get purchased after Millennial. 

1. InMobi
It is one of Pasqua's first choices to replace Millennial on her list of lucrative, independent mobile players. Google supposedly had its eye on the India-based network earlier this year, but CEO Naveen Tewari claims he wants to keep the company independent. InMobi's a bit bigger internationally than it is in the U.S., but it's acquired companies like Overlay Media—a data scientist team that zeroes in on targeting—to build up its ad offerings.

2. Opera MediaWorks
Opera bought mobile video shop AdColony last year for $75 million in cash and up to $275 million in earn-out payments. In terms of scale, it works with publishers like CBS Interactive to monetize apps with rich media like games and video.

3. xAd
The location-based firm has been focusing on satellite-based ads that target consumers within the confines of stores for over a year in the U.S. and Europe. The company's technology analyzes the data sent from a smartphone to analyze foot traffic.

4. NinthDecimal
The San Francisco-based network is working with agencies like ZenithOptimedia to crack mobile measurement and figure out if ads on smartphones actually drive folks into a store.

5. Verve
Unlike xAd and NinthDecimal, Verve has direct ties to publishers because it powers mobile sites in addition to running ads. The New York-based firm recently acquired beacon player Fosbury and hired a former Macy's executive as CMO, which could give it more clout with agencies and media brands.

Verve, xAd and NinthDecimal all put a different spin on working the location data that bounces off of phones for advertisers. Sam Bloom, general manager of interactive at Camelot, contended that the players risk being outpaced as digital powerhouses Facebook, Google and Yahoo build their own geo-targeting technology.

"My sense is some of these [smaller] guys will just crumble," Bloom said. "While [location has] been unique for a period of time, I don't think that's the case any longer. Over time, the smaller guys will get beat because the bigger guys have bigger sales forces."

Meanwhile, Jordan Bitterman, Mindshare North America's chief strategy officer, predicted that if the Millennial deal comes to fruition, it won't be the last notable mobile acquisition.

"I don't necessarily buy into the notion that [Millennial] is one of the last big ones out there," he said. "There could still be a lot of category killers out there that we might not have identified yet as a category killer. Nobody is ultimately going to win mobile because the space is too vast."

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