Opera — the Norway-based company that develops data-compressed web browsers, app storefronts, and other cloud-based services for mobile and other platforms — has made another acquisition to build out Mediaworks, its mobile advertising subsidiary. It has bought AdVine, a mobile ad network based in Cape Town, South Africa. This is Opera’s first acquisition in the region.
AdVine serves ads within a variety of large and small publishers in the region, including the BBC, MTN and Opera itself. The company’s site is currently offline — being rebuilt in the wake of the acquisition? — but you can see a media kit, already co-branded with an Opera logo, which lays out some of the other publishers in its network, along with pricing.
Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed, Opera Mediaworks CEO Mahi de Silva tells me. It is both an asset and talent grab, with people and technology joining Opera.
This may be Opera’s first acquisition in Africa, but AdVine is a known quantity to the company.
“AdVine is a team we’ve been working with since 2012 and it was an opportunity to bring a partner into the company and to ensure we can deliver a more consistent solution set into the local markets across Africa,” says de Silva.
Nor is Africa unfamiliar territory for Opera. Its best-known and oldest products are probably its Opera browsers, which are available for both smart and higher-end feature phones. These offer users a web experience that Opera says is faster than other browsers, and — because of data compression algorithms — use less data.
The promise of lower data usage resonates particularly in emerging markets, where mobile handsets have become the primary computers for many people, and — although data is dear — smartphone use is growing much faster than in mature markets.
For this reason, emerging markets have also become a huge focus for other mobile-focused companies like Google and Facebook.
That being said, de Silva notes that the mobile ad market in Africa is in “its relative infancy.”
Opera gets over 2.6 billion ad requests per month from the region and reaches more than 50 million consumers there today, but “we expect that number to more than double in the next year,” de Silva adds.
To get some perspective on that number, in its Q3 earnings, Opera reported total mobile ad impressions (including O&O) was 187.5 billion. Notably, those only grew 9% compared to Q3 2013.
In other words, just like Facebook, Google and the rest, Opera is looking to emerging markets to boost growth.
Africa is a key region for those with emerging market strategies. Today, there are 600 million mobile phone subscriptions across the continent, and Opera, in its announcement of the acquisition, cites figures from Ericsson that predict this will increase to more than 930 million by the end of 2019.
“Mobile web usage in Africa is one of the highest globally and the continent’s dynamic mobile industry remains an incredible place of growth,” Sarah Utermark, CEO, AdVine, said in a statement. “We’re excited to be able offer unrivaled reach to brands looking to tap into the burgeoning African market as part of Opera Mediaworks’ global mobile advertising platform.”
Opera has been focused on how it can tap better into the mobile explosion in Africa for a while now. South Africa and Nigera are in the company’s top 20 markets when it comes to mobile ad impressions.
The other key thing about AdVine is that it focuses on premium advertising, going beyond search and banners and for dynamic, rich media formats like video, along with better ad tech to measure how these perform.
As basic formats become less effective in catching users’ attention, rich ads are an area that has been getting more attention from many players, from Twitter to Yahoo and (our owner) AOL. It’s also an area that Opera has been pushing hard to expand, most recently buying AdColony in June, and before that Apprupt in Germany.
On another level, it’s an interesting turn to see a tech startup out of the region getting acquired. Up to now there have been relatively few tech fundings and exits out of Africa, let alone startups that have flourished into huge tech businesses.
But when you consider the size and relative early stage of that market, it seems like just a matter of time before more of these come to the fore.
Updated with comments from AdVine.