Sources: Snap has acquired Metamarkets for less than $100M to step up its ad tech play

Ingrid Lunden
Sources: Snap has acquired Metamarkets for less than $100M to step up its ad tech play

As Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, gears up to report its quarterly earnings next week, it looks like the company is making some moves to beef up its primary business line, advertising.

TechCrunch has learned that the company has acquired Metamarkets, an ad tech startup that provides programmatic ad data-related services to marketers, such as a data dashboard to measure how campaigns are performing; an API to import your programmatic data into other apps; and inventory discovery and bid monitoring for exchanges.

Clients that use its data tools include large media properties like Twitter and Oath (which owns TechCrunch but also Yahoo and Aol and the Huffington Post), marketing dashboard Nanigans and many more.

Neither Snap nor Metamarkets have responded to requests for comment but two sources have confirmed the deal to us. One, an ex-employee, received a stock alert about the transaction that noted that the agreement and plan of merger happened on October 24 (meaning, it may not have completely closed). The second confirmation came from a source close to the deal, and said that the acquisition is for under $100 million.

Metamarkets is profitable and currently generating tens of millions in revenues, the second source said. It's not clear what happens with the company's existing business as part of the deal.

Metamarkets, which has been around since 2010, had raised just under $58 million from investors that include Khosla, True Ventures, Data Collective (where Metamarkets CEO Mike Driscoll is also a partner), IA Ventures, AOL Ventures and a number of others.

You might recall that there was a rumor back in January 2016 that Snap would acquire an ad tech company or two to beef up its in-house team as it worked on ways of automating ad buying for its platform, with Recode naming Metamarkets among the shortlist. If that report was accurate, this deal looks like it could have taken 22 months to close.

The acquisition underscores a couple of interesting themes.

The first of these is Snap's ongoing efforts to build out its advertising business. Last quarter, the company reported revenues of $181.6 million largely from advertising, missing analysts' projections.

And the story hasn't ended with that earnings report: a couple of weeks ago eMarketer revised its forecast for Snap's overall ad revenues to $774 million, down from its previous estimate of $1 billion, in part because of slowing user growth. (Snap also reported slowing daily active user numbers for Snapchat last quarter, which as of August stood at 173 million.)

One thing that you can read from this is that Snap has to figure out more ways to grow usage, especially amid heavy competition from the likes of Facebook's Instagram. But another is that the company needs to develop better tools to serve ads and other marketing to those users it does have.

Unsurprisingly, the company also announced last quarter that it would be moving to a bidded auction model as part of its efforts to better automate its ad platform, so you can see how acquisitions like Metamarkets could play into that bigger strategy. (Coincidentally, the other potential acquisition mentioned back in January 2016 was the bidding platform Beeswax.)

If Snap can provide better tools to marketers, it could lure them to spend more investment on Snapchat. And potentially Metamarkets provides more: it could represent an opportunity to Snap to present itself as an analytics dashboard across a number of other properties, not just its own. (Interestingly, this was some of the strategy behind Twitter's acquisition of MoPub back in the day, too.) And it potentially opens the door to more collaboration between Metamarkets' existing customers and Snap.

Other acquisition that fall into Snap's strategy to build out its ad tech and marketing tools include Placed, Flite, and Vurb.

The second theme that is worth highlighting here is the ongoing dominance of Facebook and Google in the world of online ads.

It's notable that Metamarkets, a company that is processing billions of data points in real time, working with some of the bigger names in media and programmatic ads today, and is profitable, is selling up for a price that is not significantly higher than what it raised from VCs.

"The crushing oligopoly of Google and Facebook leaves so little room for perceived future growth and innovation, that VCs and acquirers no longer value either revenue or tech as upside in the ad space," one observer said to me.

That speaks to just how big the disparity is between these companies today, but potentially also of the glimmer of opportunity for those trying to find a way to compete against them. If data is where the money is, providing more ways of consolidating that, in the name of competition, could be one way forward.

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