Analytics Systems

SoftBank Pumps $20M Into Ad Analytics Startup

SoftBank has invested $20 million in mobile advertising and analytics startup Cinarra to build a bridge between its user data and Japanese brands' mobile ad ambitions.

This is a Series B funding round for Cinnara Systems. The startup, founded in 2012, first raised $4.5 million in Series A funding, led by Almaz Capital Partners , along with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s investment arm, in October 2013. The more sizable $20 million round B funding comes from SoftBank Corp. , Almaz and private equity firm Siguler Guff & Company. Cinarra says it will use the cash to strengthen its product engineering team and expand its business with operators globally. (See Big Data Attracts Big Dollars, New Faces.)

It's already got one operator under its belt in SoftBank. Cinarra Co-Founder and CEO Alex Zinin was cagey about the young company's technology when Light Reading spoke to him back in 2013, describing it as a mediator between operators and over-the-top (OTT) apps, but he added more color ahead of today's announcement. Cinarra is actually focused on mobile advertising -- marrying network analytics with brands looking to build more targeted ads. That's what it's deploying with SoftBank currently, although Zinin says it will be another 30 days or so before the company commercially launches the product for other operators.

"We have built a product that is a combination of an analytical platform that's a software suite we license to operators, a technology solution that lets them analyze large amounts of data in real time and a mediation platform we operate that connects the operators and integrates with the mobile ad industry," Zinin explains. "It enables ad agencies to log in and provision ad campaigns that use targeting capabilities built into the software architecture we provide to operators."

Zinin stresses, of course, that security and privacy are embedded in this process -- both through an operator's own established security practices and Cinarra's privacy protocols built into the architecture.

Zinin says the platform can be deployed centrally in the network or distributed throughout, including deployment on carrier WiFi networks. The Cinarra platform will collect data on a segment, or user group level. It will provide more details of what data it aggregates with the commercial launch next month, but Zinin says it will likely include demographic info and location.

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SoftBank hopes the platform will enhance the services it offers its customers with more relevant, targeted ads. Zinin suggests it could also use it to offer those services free through an ad-supported model.

SoftBank is the first announced partner, but Zinin says it's working with multiple operators in Asia, Europe and the Americas too. Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is not part of the deal with its parent company. The US operator has its own mobile advertising division, Pinsight Media+, but Zinin says this would be complementary to what Cinarra offers. (See Sprint Plays by Its Own Rules, Too.)

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is not the only startup looking to plunge into mobile advertising, a space that holds promise for serious revenue generation but that has so far not taken off. It's certainly not the only analytics player either. But its hope is that with SoftBank giving it credibility with both its funding and deployment, it will start establishing a global platform for mobile operators and advertisers across the spectrum to participate in through open standards. (See Apigee VP: Mobile Ads Are Ops' Next API Push, Operators Should Block Ads to Get Their Cut, Startup Says and Verizon Rewards Customers for Their Data.)

"We're creating a new pathway for revenue streams between two industries that didn't exist before," Zinin says. "Cinarra is an open platform. We can connect with any operator, ad network or advertiser, enabling them to quickly participate in this new economy. We're solving integration issues and issues of representing information properly and using it so it's useful for operators. We're making it very simple for operators to start participating in this economy too."

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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