Wanted: A Rich Media Mobile Ad Standard. Solution: ORMMA?

Techies like to fly by the seat of their pants, iterating and breaking rules as they go. But at some point, you need industry stability and standards if you want to build a big business– especially if you want to build a big advertising business.

Imagine if you had to code a TV commercial for people who have a Toshiba versus a Sony, or if there weren’t standard ad units and technologies for display ads online. Do you think big New York media buyers would launch mega-campaigns? Of course not. And rich-media ads in mobile apps and on the mobile Web won’t become a big multi-billion business without standardization either. In short, the industry needs a truly agnostic DoubleClick– a company that serves ads without a preference of ad network.

But who will drive this standardization? Well, a group of rich media mobile ad companies and publishers are giving it a go with a new consortium called ORMMA or the Open Rich Media Mobile Advertising Initiative. It launches today and founding members include The Weather Channel, Crisp Wireless and TringApps and has the support of PointRoll and Jumptap. It is currently being reviewed by the Mobile Marketing Association, and needs the endorsement of that body and the Interactive Advertising Bureau if it is going to succeed, admits Boris Fridman, CEO of mobile ad platform Crisp Wireless.

The MMA will release a white paper on the standard in the next three months. “We have to remove friction otherwise we won’t grow the industry,” Fridman says. Crisp clearly is a for-profit company, so there’s a selfish agenda here, but it’s made efforts to get enough others on board and generally worked to push the issue in the tech industry. And that seems to be good for the industry generally, whether ORMMA itself gets traction or not.

The aim is to be a vendor-agnostic HTLM5 standard that can work on any platform, on any handset, without a dozen or so SDKs and constant updates and tweaks, Fridman says. It is open for all publishers and developers to join and weigh in on. The more heavyweights, the greater likelihood it becomes the standard.

But it seems obvious there needs to be a standard. “Publishers can’t be held ransom by SDK solutions,” says Cameron Clayton, senior vice president of mobile and digital applications for the Weather Channel. “If Apple or any OS launches a new version, we can’t wait on rich media vendors or analytics providers to conform to the new version of the OS. We need to provide the best solution to our customers ASAP. ORMMA allows that to be possible. It’s still early days but ORMMA shows a lot of promise, and as an open source solution it also allows for the industry to make it much better and truly a ‘standard’. We are not there yet, but we are close.”

There’s never a 100% win-win in the tech business, and there is no doubt some big mobile ad networks that thrive by eliminating existing chaos will ruffle at a standard that lessens the need for pricy middlemen. Others have claimed the ORMMA folks are talking up a problem that isn’t there. But the bottom line is everyone will make more money if advertisers can get scale across handsets and platforms with minimal work and the industry will gravitate towards a fair option– too much is at stake not to. Mobile advertising is roughly a $500 million dollar industry now compared to online rich media which is north of $20 billion. And smart phone apps have a lot of endemic advantages– they are boredom killers and people are more likely to respond to ads when they are bored. Likewise, they can measure all sorts of things when it comes to engagement and location in a way even the Web cannot.

Right now, there aren’t enough eyeballs on most apps to justify huge ad campaigns, whether there is a standard or not. But without better standards all the eyeballs in the world won’t make mobile advertising a billion dollar industry.