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eMarketer: It's Facebook's billion-dollar year

The market research firm estimates that worldwide ad spending on Facebook will hit $1.28 billion in 2010, quite a bit more than last year's $665 million.

Ad industry market research firm eMarketer released estimates Thursday that predict ad spending on Facebook will reach nearly $1.3 billion worldwide in 2010--and is poised to hit over $1.7 billion in 2011.

"Brand advertisers are making Facebook a core buy," senior analyst Debra Aho Williamson said in a release. "Ad spending is building quickly and the mass audience is one that marketers cannot ignore any longer."

The bulk of that $1.28 billion figure--$835 million--is in the U.S., which is home to less than a quarter of Facebook's users. That's expected to grow to slightly over $1 billion in 2011 (a 112 percent gain from 2009). International ad spending in 2010 is estimated at $450 million, but is expected to grow to $700 million (a 325 percent gain since 2009). That'd put international ad spending on Facebook in 2011 ahead of all ad spending on Facebook in 2009, which eMarketer pegged at $665 million.

This is a remarkable shift from the days when analysts and ad industry insiders were skeptical that a social network could ever be a choice destination for advertising; in the early days of the recession two years ago, eMarketer repeatedly cut its ad spending estimates for social networks as media buyers grew more conservative about edgier niches of digital advertising that weren't guaranteed to bring in returns.

The social-media site to first take off in ad spending was the News Corp.-owned MySpace, which featured deeper ties to Madison Avenue thanks to its big-media ownership, as well as splashier, more traditional display ads in contrast to Facebook's smaller, self-serve units. But Facebook has long since surpassed it in ad spending as well as traffic. eMarketer estimates MySpace ad spending for 2010 to be $347 million, a 14 percent drop from 2009.