Mobile ad network InMobi continues to make use of the $200 million in financing it received in 2011 from Softbank: today it is announcing the acquisition of Overlay Media, a UK-based developer of “context-aware” computing technologies. Among other things, InMobi will use Overlay Media to improve how it targets and personalizes ads to specific users. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but we are trying to find out and will update this post as we learn more.
The acquisition is the latest from InMobi, which operates platforms for rich media ads that it says reach 578 million consumers in 165 countries. In July 2012, it bought MMTG Labs and later Metaflow to improve its mobile ad distribution both to smartphones and feature phones. Although the Overlay Media deal is being announced today, it actually closed in the second half of last year, TechCrunch has learned. InMobi is also backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sherpalo Ventures, in addition to Softbank.
The Overlay Media deal is as much about technology as it is talent acquisition. The CEO and founder of the company, Ian Anderson, first started the company in Bristol in 2007 while he was at the university there working on a PhD in mobile and wearable computing. Overlay’s speciality, Anderson said in an interview today, is “imagining what the mobile phone might look like in 2014 and 2015.” Overlay was funded by the IP Group, a London-based VC with a track record of backing research-intensive startups.
“We are excited to add amazing talent to InMobi,” Naveen Tewari, Founder and CEO at InMobi, said in a statement. “This acquisition, along with Metaflow Solutions and MMTG Labs, will help us to continue to be at the forefront of delivering highly engaging content to consumers globally.” All six Overlay Media employees have joined InMobi’s London office, with Anderson now holding the title of InMobi’s principal research scientist.
Overalay’s technology itself has a two-fold use, neither of which is being commercially deployed at the moment through InMobi or any other company, but both of which will continue to be developed going forward.
First, Overlay has developed something it calls the Context Engine, which can pick up, automatically, different mobile device diagnostics and other data such as batter power and user location (eg near home or in a car). This, in turn, can be delivered to an application to improve or tailor how data is presented to users.
Two examples that Overlay provides on its website for how this would work are Facebook content popping up on your phone when you are closer to home, or text messages changing to speaker mode when you are driving in a car.
There are just hypotheticals, however. Anderson says that Overlay Media “does a lot of Context Engine work with tier-one device manufacturers” — work that is continuing after the InMobi acquisition. But that is confined to R&D services at this point with some internal testing. [note: Anderson says that because Context Engine sits only on your device and processes data locally, it is different from Carrier IQ, the device diagnostics service embedded on HTC devices by Sprint, which saw a lot of controversy in 2011 and 2012 over privacy concerns.]
The other side to Overlay Media’s service is the more obvious connection to InMobi: this kind of data can be used to help improve the types of ads that mobile advertisers deliver to users. Overlay Media has been advocating this use of context-aware data for some time now.
As with Context Engine, using Overlay’s technology in InMobi ads is still a work in progress. “At the moment it is still too early to say how things will be used,” Anderson said. “I’m expecting that in the next couple of months that will become clearer. There are so many opportunities so it’s an effort that is ongoing.”
One thing this does point to, though: InMobi has some ambitions to go beyond being just a mobile ad network, using that as a lever for providing other kinds of analytics and services. “One of the things that appealed to me about InMobi that its more than just serving out ads,” Anderson said of the decision to sell his company. “There are lots of things that InMobi is trying to do to improve life for the developer. I could see them moving beyond being just a pure ad server.”
Full release below.
InMobi Acquires Overlay Media
Adds deep domain expertise in context aware computing
LONDON, January 8th 2013 — InMobi, the leader in mobile-first technology platforms, and the largest independent mobile advertising network, today announced the acquisition of Overlay Media, experts in context aware computing.
Overlay Media, which comprises of a team of data scientists, have built the Context Engine technology to deliver personalised content to mobile users.
Naveen Tewari, Founder and CEO at InMobi comments: “We are excited to add amazing talent to InMobi. This acquisition, along with Metaflow Solutions and MMTG Labs, will help us to continue to be at the forefront of delivering highly engaging content to consumers globally.”
“At Overlay Media, our goal has been to develop technology that enables mobile devices to provide a highly personal and immersive user experience. We are excited to join InMobi to further their position as a market leader in mobile advertising”, said Dr. Ian Anderson, CEO at Overlay Media.
The Overlay Media team will be based from the InMobi London EMEA HQ.
InMobi is an innovative mobile technology company that enables the world’s leading brands, developers, and publishers to engage global consumers. InMobi builds mobile-first technology platforms that leverage advances in big-data, user behaviour, and cloud-based architectures to simplify advertising. Agencies and advertisers leverage InMobi platforms to create HTML5 rich media ads and engage 578M consumers across 165 countries. Developers and premium publishers use InMobi platforms to acquire and monetise their mobile apps and their mobile websites across the globe. With offices in multiple continents, InMobi provides global reach with local service and support across the globe. InMobi is venture-backed by investors including: SoftBank, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sherpalo Ventures.
About Overlay Media
Overlay Media is one of the leading developers of mobile data analytics based technologies. The company’s flagship product, the Context Engine, enables intelligent on-device behaviour, wiser use of battery power and increased personalisation.