Facebook Shutters Atlas Ad Serving as Ad Tech Landscape Changes

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Facebook's data center in Luleå, Sweden. The company is emphasizing ad sales pegged to the vast amount of information it has on its users.
Facebook's data center in Luleå, Sweden. The company is emphasizing ad sales pegged to the vast amount of information it has on its users.  Credit: Facebook
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Facebook is shutting down its Atlas ad server, signaling its latest retreat from the old advertising technology ecosystem it once tried to build.

On Friday, Facebook announced that it would stop running Atlas as an ad server, a place for brands to manage online ad campaigns, and instead solely use it as a measurement tool for marketers.

"We had a hard time getting people excited about ad serving," said Erik Johnson, Facebook's head of client measurement.

Clients valued the measurement and not the ad-serving part, Mr. Johnson said.

Three years ago, when Facebook bought Atlas, the company had barely made its mobile transition, and was looking to build ad infrastructure that one day could challenge Google DoubleClick.

But it proved to be a tough challenge to get marketers to switch from ad servers they already used, and in the end not worth the effort, especially as the ad tech landscape changed and Facebook's own strengths grew.

The main social network has 1.8 billion monthly active users, its Messenger and WhatsApp messaging apps have 1 billion and its Instagram photo and video sharing app has 500 million.

With that size audience and the data insights that Facebook has into its users, there was less need for Facebook to build an open advertising technology ecosystem. Instead it has focused on serving ads to its own properties and the Facebook Audience Network, which delivers ads to outside apps and websites based on Facebook's targeting data.

"The idea of ad serving itself has become super highly commoditized," a person familiar with Facebook's Atlas strategy said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "And Facebook has so much to focus on with Facebook and Instagram, so why bother."

There will be a transition period for advertisers now using Atlas as a server to find a new provider, Mr. Johnson said. But it won't change for the the hundreds of marketers that rely on it for measurement, he said.

Facebook hopes that it's still positioned to do some business even in an area that Google dominates because advertisers choosing DoubleClick as an ad server might want Facebook for the measurement piece.

Facebook is credited with having the best data on people, whom it can often find on desktop browsers, as they use apps and on the mobile web.

The Atlas announcement, however, does come at an awkward time for the company. Facebook revealed this week that it had found instances where it provided bad numbers to brands and publishers using its analytics tools on the social network.

The glitches that led to those errors were not related to Atlas, Mr. Johnson said. The Atlas team spent part of the week reassuring clients that their numbers were not impacted.

Facebook in January closed LiveRail, moving its clients to Facebook Audience Network over the summer. LiveRail was another ad tech component that did not work out for Facebook when it was looking to build a traditional model for the industry.

With LiveRail, an ad exchange focused on video, Facebook said it found too much fraudulent and low-quality traffic, and decided it wasn't worth maintaining.