Facebook agrees to acquire Microsoft Atlas

Facebook today announced that it has agreed to buy Atlas Advertiser Suite from Microsoft.

Atlas is a platform that advertisers and agencies use to plan, manage, track and optimize their digital marketing.

The Facebook-Microsoft deal has been anticipated for weeks after AllThingsD reported that the companies were talking in December and Ad Age reported that the acquisition was imminent earlier this month. Facebook did not disclose the terms of the deal, which includes the Atlas software and team, but Ad Age and CNBC sources have said it could be in the $100-million range or likely even less. Microsoft originally bought Atlas in 2007 as part of its $6 billion acquisition of aQuantive.

The social network has positioned the Atlas buy as a way to help advertisers get a more “holistic view” of their campaign performance at varying points in the marketing funnel. Some have wondered whether the acquisition is part of the company’s plans to create an off-Facebook ad network, but the measurement component is perhaps most important for Facebook at this stage. With Atlas, advertisers can manage and measure their campaigns across a number of channels to determine which sites, placements and creative drive different types of engagement and conversions. Facebook says “enhancing these systems will give marketers a deeper understanding of effectiveness and lead to better digital advertising experiences for consumers.”

Facebook says it will support existing Atlas clients and will further “innovate and invest” in the platform. The Atlas product has fallen behind Google’s Doubleclick in terms of innovation and usability in recent years. However, Facebook is known to move quickly and build new features, and it seems it already has plans for Atlas. Facebook Director, Monetization Product Marketing Brian Boland wrote in a blog post today:

“We plan to improve Atlas’ capabilities by investing in scaling its back-end measurement systems and enhancing its current suite of advertiser tools on desktop and mobile. We will also work to improve the user interface and functionality with the goal of making Atlas the most effective, intuitive, and powerful ad serving, management and measurement platform in the industry.”

Facebook says the Seattle-based Atlas team will continue to operate from there. Facebook already has an engineering office in the city with employees building parts of its advertising system.

Atlas began offering ad tracking for Facebook in June 2012. Atlas clients can submit tracking tags along with their creative to Facebook during trafficking. This allows advertisers to track through to conversion on off-Facebook websites, and view Facebook campaigns alongside their other media efforts.

In October last year, COO Sheryl Sandberg said Facebook was exploring opportunities to sell “premium services” for businesses. It’s unclear whether she had something like Atlas in mind at the time, but the addition of the platform gives Facebook a new source of potential revenue if it can turn the platform around and better compete with Google’s Doubleclick.

Facebook’s revenue from advertising was $1.33 billion in the fourth quarter of 2012, representing 84 percent of total revenue and a 41 percent increase from the same quarter the previous year. Payments and other fees revenue for the fourth quarter was $256 million.

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