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At Facebook's F8, Ad Tech Should Steal the Show

Facebook has lots of ad offerings and it's ready to show them off.

Gil C /

Facebook spent the past year buying and building all sorts of ad tech — now it’s starting to put it to work.

It launched Audience Network, an ad network that uses Facebook data to sell ads on other people’s mobile apps. It relaunched Atlas, a tool intended to help big brands track their ad efforts across multiple devices. And it bought a video ad management startup, LiveRail, in the hope that video advertising will drive the business of the Internet the way banner ads once did.

At Facebook’s F8 developer conference on Wednesday, you can bet the company will put that ad tech on display.

The reason is simple. Of all the benefits Facebook offers developers, the ability to make money through advertising may be the most important for everyone involved. Facebook is doing battle with the likes of Google, Yahoo and Twitter, which are all launching ad services of their own in an effort to woo developers, so there’s added pressure to get products launched.

If more Facebook developers use Facebook’s ad products and user data to surface ads, Facebook can extend its business well beyond those who visit News Feed. And it can make a boatload of money in the process.

Facebook already cashes in on advertising. The company reported nearly $12.5 billion in revenue last year, 92 percent of which came from ads.

So ad tech is one of the major themes we’ll be watching for at F8 on Wednesday and Thursday. Here’s what to look for.


Facebook bought LiveRail last summer and has kept the product relatively quiet since. It’s possible that F8 will be LiveRail’s coming-out party.

Facebook is looking to create an ad exchange where publishers can put available ad space up for auction to the highest bidder. LiveRail already uses real-time bidding to help publishers fill vacant video ad space, and LiveRail may be looking to do the same for display advertising.

Twitter offers something similar for mobile apps with its MoPub product — it’s a way for Twitter to extend its ad business beyond its user base.

For Facebook, an ad exchange would help fill in the gaps, but it could also improve profitability. Publishers can already sell ad space in bulk through Audience Network, but an exchange could help publishers bump up their ad rates by auctioning it off. It can also benefit advertisers, as rates have been known to drop, too. Facebook wants to provide every tool a publisher might need to bring advertising to its product, and right now this is a gap in the company’s tech offerings.

One other element missing from LiveRail: Facebook user data. Right now, the technology helps publishers surface the best video ad to show visitors by using things like Internet cookies. But Facebook has a huge trove of user data that’s perfect for ad targeting. With LiveRail, it’s not being used.

It’s likely Facebook will use that data with LiveRail at some point. F8 could be a good time to announce it.

Cross-Device Tracking

If a user sees an ad on mobile, shops around on a tablet and then makes a purchase on a laptop, it’s tough for advertisers to know which ad and which device — if any — was directly responsible for helping generate the sale. The challenge is referred to as cross-device tracking, and it can be a nightmare for marketers.

Facebook is trying to solve that problem with Atlas, an ad tracking tool primarily for big brands. But there’s lots of room to improve, and it’s possible Facebook will address this at F8. As people add more and more connected devices to their lives (think watches and TVs), Facebook will want to be prepared to help advertisers take advantage.

App Install Ads

Facebook has long benefited from app install ads, or ads that encourage users to click and download an app onto their phone. Now, Facebook is set to launch new tracking technology for those ads at F8, according to The Information. Such a feature would do a better job determining which ad actually inspired a user download.

A tool like this could work with Facebook’s cross-device tracking. Other companies like Google and Twitter offer app install ads, but there is no gold standard for tracking the success of those ads. If Facebook could find one, it might be able to steal business away from the competition.

Oculus, WhatsApp, Instagram

F8 has typically been a conference for Facebook developers. This year, it looks as though developers for its other properties — like Oculus, Instagram and WhatsApp — will be included, too.

One of Thursday’s keynotes will focus on virtual reality, and it’ll be worth watching to see if Oculus offers any timing on the launch of its consumer headset. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey hinted at the South By Southwest Interactive conference earlier this month that the device may be delayed.

There are multiple Instagram-themed sessions, and it’s no secret that app is looking to ramp up its ad efforts, too. It’s clear these services — and the users they have accumulated — are important to Facebook’s long-term business. Part of nurturing that business will be encouraging developers to build other products to work alongside them.

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