Facebook is working with a dozen mobile ad networks to better track installs beyond mobile media it directly controls.
Millennial Media, InMobi and AppLovin are among the networks to sign on for the beta program, but Facebook's biggest competitors predictably aren’t playing along.
The feature is part of a product called Analytics for Apps that was announced Wednesday at Facebook's F8 developer conference – where the company also unveiled a mobile exchange offering courtesy of its LiveRail publisher product.
Analytics for Apps aggregates insights such as how people engage with an app like Zulily (a launch partner), where they drop off, how often they come back and how well an app developer's marketing campaigns are working.
Analytics for Apps will be backed by Facebook's cross-device ("people-based") ID, which has had something of a coming out at this conference. Its inclusion will let app owners better understand how users interact across all their digital toys.
Facebook head of platform Deborah Liu told an audience of developers that Analytics for Apps "lets you analyze people who are using apps and websites on multiple devices … how often people come back to an app, and whether marketing campaigns are working for you."
While Facebook has not publicly disclosed its ad network partners, AdExchanger has learned the list includes AppLift , AppLovin, Fyber (formerly SponsorPay), InMobi, Millennial Media and Supersonic. One source estimates that with the new partners, Facebook will have visibility into as much as 60% of US mobile display inventory.
Facebook has long offered campaign creation tools for app developers looking to drive installs, but its ability to track those placements has until now been limited to media it directly controls, either through its owned and operated properties or through its Audience Network. For app marketers pushing campaigns into a cluster of ad networks, there is a need to centrally track performance – which has given rise to app analytics pure-plays like Apsalar and Kochava.
And that need is likely to remain. Among the networks not participating in Facebook's measurement plans are three behemoths: Google, Twitter and Apple/iAd. For these companies, accepting Facebook's tracking approach could expose a range of data about their app partners and audiences, such as eCPMs and lifetime user value – not to mention give an advantage to a key competitor in the all-important mobile advertising race.
The unwillingness of these large networks to play along with Facebook's app tracking plans is good news for pure-play mobile attribution vendors. Firms like adjust, AppsFlyer, Apsalar, Kochava and Tune juggle SDKs and performance data feeds from a range of supply sources. For a consolidated view of holistic ad campaign performance, the very largest app marketers – some of whom spend tens of millions a month – will continue to rely on these independent specialists.
Apsalar CEO Michael Oiknine said the news will raise awareness among marketers of the need for cross-network attribution. "For differentiated mobile measurement providers like Apsalar that have years in the business and a differentiated feature set, market actions like this create huge potential upside," he said.
Tune CEO Peter Hamilton sounded a similar note. "Enterprise mobile companies that place a high value on customer data – and that manage dozens or even hundreds of advertising partners (including folks like Google, Twitter and others) – will need their own solution to measure and reconcile the performance and value of those channels," he said.
Additionally, the adjusts and Apsalars of the world have the ability to receive performance and pricing data at the device ID level, rather than in aggregate. That's information Facebook does not plan to pass along under its direct-to-marketer measurement program. Its reporting interface will provide only bulk data on installs and post-install events, rather than ID-specific information such as revenue per user and lifetime user value.
Facebook has been clear with its measurement partners that it doesn't intend to replace them anytime soon, and will continue to certify them in its marketing partner program for the foreseeable future.
What's an assurance like that worth? Based on early interviews, the move has clearly created some concern among pure-plays that Facebook is making a long-term play for their business. It wouldn't be out of character, as early partners in the Facebook Exchange (FBX) have learned. That platform was launched in 2012, and has gradually been overshadowed by Facebook's Custom Audiences first-party data matching program. FBX still exists, but its use cases are limited.
In light of some competitors' refusal to participate in Facebook's measurement program, it's fair to ask why the 12 participating ad networks would play along. The answer may be to please advertisers. To take one example, InMobi has a partner measurement program with five "gold standard" measurement vendors including Kochava. It also offers lower-tier tracking access for other partners, where it passes along less granular data, and Facebook is part of that group.