Adobe Systems ( ADBE – news – people ) Chief Executive Shantanu Narayen is counting big numbers: 4.9 trillion Web display ads will be shown this year, he says. In the last quarter of 2010, 100 million smartphones were sold worldwide. This year there’ll be 17.7 billion downloads of mobile applications, creating a paid-apps market worth $15.1 billion.
Almost every ad and app out there, along with most of the business and consumer-oriented content on the Web, is going to be tracked and responsive to some entity’s remote control. That entity, he hopes, will be Adobe.
“Everything is changing!” says Narayen during an interview at his hotel suite in Salt Lake City during a break between meetings with some of the 700 companies here for the annual customer summit run by his subsidiary, Omniture (OMTR – news – people ). Adobe bought Omniture for $1.8 billion in 2009 because the Orem, Utah software firm makes the Web’s most successful tracking tools. Its annual conference gathers people who spend 30% of all Internet ad dollars.
Narayen got blasted for paying 24% over Omniture’s share price, but it looks like a good move. Omniture’s revenue is growing 20% a year while sales of Adobe’s better-known creativity programs like Photoshop and Illustrator were repeatedly hit in the recession. Adobe’s Flash software, the standard for rendering graphics and video online, is taking a p.r. beating by Apple ( AAPL – news – people ), which refuses to use it in its phones and tablets. Yet Adobe’s stock has kept pace with Apple so far this year. Earlier this year Narayen picked up another audience-tracking tech firm, called Demdex, to further entrench his position among companies that manage, analyze and act upon what people do on the Web, particularly around selling stuff.
Narayen is building into Adobe’s content-creation tools the planning, tagging and tracking software, plus newer technology that plumbs Twitter and Facebook for information about how people, ads and products are seen. With the right analytics built in, an ad can get automatically tweaked to improve response, or maybe a new app is created because someone raved on Twitter. “It’s a huge opportunity for us, if we can step up to it.”
Adobe does not break it out, but about $1 billion of its $3.8 billion in revenue last year came from big corporate sales, the kind that would combine creative tools with some analytics. The rest of its revenue is from sales of individual software. In the near term Narayen thinks this new market is worth more than $10 billion. He envisions, further out, selling services around these insights. “We can be the mission-critical company for digital experiences and not just a products company,” he says.
Virgin America, which gets 70% of its revenue from its website, uses Adobe software to track where its passengers click to offsite so it can craft the right mix of search and display ads. Hearst uses Omniture to test how its readers click on Web stories. It tested “royal” stories and “celebrity weddings” stories, and found people were obsessing on so-called storybook weddings more than on storybook royalty. The editors ordered up more celebrity wedding stories.
Narayen could get bought or beaten along the way. IBM ( IBM– news – people ) just announced it will deploy 1,000 consultants and 1,200 salesmen into its “smarter commerce” initiative, dedicated to helping advertisers figure out the real costs and effectiveness of their online marketing. Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ – news – people )’s new CEO, Leo Apotheker, used his first public appearance to talk about the growing importance of data-analysis software to HP.
Google ( GOOG – news – people ) gives away a somewhat more primitive service than Omniture’s called Google Analytics, but Google retains its own file of the data people plug into it. If Google Analytics is taking business from Omniture, there is no evidence of it from the outside. The market is still growing fast.