Mediaocean Ends Pursuit of Microsoft's Atlas as Talks With Facebook Heat Up

Microsoft Hoped to Sell Ad Server Atlas by Year-End

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Facebook is the latest suitor for Microsoft's Atlas ad-serving business, according to a published report, while two other companies that previously expressed interest in Atlas have paused or ended their pursuit entirely.

Facebook is in "serious" talks with Microsoft to purchase the Atlas business, Business Insider reported on Wednesday. Such a deal could help Facebook jump-start its long-rumored effort to build an ad network that extends onto websites outside of Facebook's walled garden.

Ad Age broke the news in October that Microsoft was in discussions to sell Atlas and that it was determined to get a deal done before the end of the year. At the time, AppNexus, in which Microsoft owns a stake, was seen as the frontrunner. Mediaocean was also seen as a possible suitor. Ad Age has learned that Mediaocean did in fact make an offer for Atlas, but that the company is no longer involved in acquisition talks, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

And a person close to AppNexus confirmed that the company has engaged in "exploratory talks" with Microsoft but said that there is "nothing live at the moment." It's not clear if talks between the two sides have a chance of restarting. Ad Age previously reported that Adobe considered making an offer for Atlas, but ultimately decided to pass.

Atlas still has some big brand and agency clients who use it to serve, track and measure online ad campaigns. But its market share has suffered in recent years as it lost out to other top ad servers, such as Google's Doubleclick for Advertisers.

Microsoft acquired Atlas as part of its $6.2 billion aQuantive deal in 2007, when it was busily racing Google to build the pipes that power online advertising. Now Microsoft is more focused on its own platforms and technologies such as Windows 8 and Xbox; rather than own the advertising technology, it seems it would prefer to partner with an array of outside companies, as it did with AppNexus last year.

Microsoft's online-services division -- which includes its online ad business -- lost $364 million in the third quarter, compared with $514 million in the same quarter last year.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment. A Microsoft spokesman did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

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