Opera Snaps Up Mobile Theory, 4th Screen For $26M In Mobile Ad Push

Mobile browser company Opera today announced that it has acquired the mobile ad networks Mobile Theory and 4th Screen Advertising. The move is not just another sign of the ongoing consolidation in that space, but also of the need to bulk up to better compete with the likes of Google with more full-service solutions.

Opera will be paying $18 million for Mobile Theory and $8 million for 4th Screen, with potential earn-outs bringing in an additional $32 million and $6.5 million respectively in 2013 and 2014

The move comes at the same time that San Mateo/Oslo, Norway-based Opera announced its latest quarterly earnings, in which revenues were up by 31 percent to 253.1 million Norwegian Kronor ($44 million), on the back of strong growth in its desktop browser, consumer/advertising, and OEM divisions — offsetting a small decline in the company’s first-ever customer base, mobile operators.

It also arrives as several other big moves take hold in the mobile ad space, with Google changing how companies bid for ad space on its AdMob network — lowering the prices in the process, which will probably mean even more volume going through that network — and Apple reportedly sweetening the terms for iAds yet again, bringing down minimum spend to $100,000 (that is, a tenth of what it reportedly required when it first launched iAds in 2010); and giving publishers 70 percent of the proceeds instead of 60 percent as it did before.

On top of that, all parties are very likely to get a new, formidable competitor in Facebook, when it finally unveils its first mobile marketing products — reportedly at the end of this month.

Mobile Theory and 4th Screen, which focus on rich-media advertising solutions, will help expand Opera’s existing mobile advertising business. Opera already offers a range of mobile ad services for a range of smartphone and feature phone mobile platforms, such as Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, BlackBerry, Symbian from Nokia and Java — a business it moved into in earnest when it bought supply-side publisher AdMarvel two years ago. Opera says that business generated $200 million in revenue for publisher partners last year. That’s still a fair bit from Google, which generated mobile ad spend of $750 million last year in the U.S. alone.

Opera claims that it is the world’s most popular mobile browser, with some 160 million monthly active users and 100 billion page views, so it’s no surprise that it is making moves like this to better monetize that base.

In addition to getting mobile users onto the web, Opera also launched its own app store last year. It sells mobile ads that appear both in the web browsing and apps part of its business.

The idea of buying two demand-side networks instead of one seems to be partly also because Mobile Theory has most of its business in the U.S., with headquarters in San Francisco, while 4th Screen is mainly focused in Europe, with its base in London.

Mobile Theory counts companies like Microsoft, Chevrolet and Coca-Cola among its clients, and serves up to 2 billion impressions per month across 300 mobile sites and apps, covering 60 million mobile users. Opera did not reveal 4th Screen’s corresponding numbers but it works with several big-name publishers such as The Guardian, Shazam, MTV and IMDb.