Skype to Expand Its Native Ad Platform in 2013

Display ads turn into interactive apps

Earlier this year Skype launched the ability for brands to show ads during users’ calls. The idea was that marketers could run these Conversation Ads as conversation starters.

Not everyone was psyched. So just wait until they hear what’s on the horizon for the Microsoft-owned video-chat company. Starting in the first half of 2013, Skype is about to dial up its ad offerings by adding both interactive display ad and interactive video placements that will appear on screen during users calls and within Skype's own interface.

“Today Conversation Ads offer a way to spur discussion…we’re considering making Conversation Ads a shared experience that’s more interactive,” said Sandhya Venkatachalam, gm of advertising and monetization at Skype.

While Venkatachalam said “considering,” she clarified that Skype is “committed” to the ad platform and will beta-test it in piecemeal fashion by advertising Microsoft’s owned-and-operated properties via Skype, as well as other advertisers. The company, though, declined to specify which brands.

“We see advertising as an extension we already do very well, which is connecting people inmeaningful ways,” Venkatachalam said, adding that Skype’s advertising platform would “combine the reach, engagement and rich video-messaging experience with a more interactive, social, truly relevant branded experience in the future.”

The ad platform Skype is erecting resembles more of an app platform that aims to layer in brands as services of the Skype product rather than sponsors. In one example Venkatachalam laid out, an auto brand could develop a car configuration tool for the Skype platform that users would be able to play with during a call with a friend. The user could customize a car, compare their version with their friend’s version, talk it over, then schedule a test drive.

Another possibility is that brands could sponsor content on Skype. For example, per Venkatachalam an airline could run ads on Skype promoting its list of the top vacation spots for the holiday season. Users could share that list with friends or family members through Skype, and the airline could build a trip-planning tool for those users to map out a vacation on Skype.

But Skype doesn’t only have its idea on more interactive ads that could double as apps. “Maybe the most exciting idea is the vision of building a more permanent and persistent destination on Skype where brands have an ongoing dialogue with the Skype audience,” Venkatachalam said.

What Venkatachalam is getting at is a sponsored group that blends elements of a Facebook Page with a Google+ Hangout, though she did say it’s “different than other types of social networks out there” because it’s “oriented around smaller, more personal group experiences.”

These branded hubs will host games, special events, news and entertainment content that users can share to their Skype contacts. As an example, a reality competition show could run a sponsored group that lets users learn about contestants, watch show highlights and participate in video calls with a contestant.

Skype’s ad platform will be initially limited to devices running Windows 8 (it is called Skype Ads for Windows 8, after all). Skype declined to say how many users advertisers will be able to reach through Windows. However the company did offer several other stats about its user base.

For starters Skype’s number of monthly active users (MAUs) has increased 40 percent year-over-year to total more than 280 million MAUs, spanning various desktop and mobile devices and operating systems. Venkatachalam said the average Skype session lasts at least thirty minutes and that 50 percent of users’ chats are video calls. She added that 16 percent of Skype users connect only through mobile devices and 32 percent regularly switch between mobile and desktop.

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