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Publishers test audio ads to open new mobile revenue streams

National Public Radio and Tribune Co. are betting on audio ads to monetize their applications as mobile becomes the primary platform for news consumption.

The addition of audio-based mobile ads are aimed at helping publishers crack into some of the success that music streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify have seen with big brands. NPR, for example, is seeing more than 50 percent of its users coming from mobile and is now in the middle of ramping up its mobile applications and advertising options for marketers.

?We've been leveraging audio sponsorships for some time in mobile and on the Web, but as our mobile use continues to grow, we're finding that much of the audio listening is happening while phones are in background mode, or in circumstances where the user is focused on other tasks,? said Bryan Moffett, vice president of digital strategy and ad operations at NPR, Washington.

?While we've enjoyed higher click-through rates on our mobile audio sponsorships, the ability to use your voice to act on a sponsorship opens up a lot of potential for those users who are not actively looking at their phone, or in a situation where they can't,? he said.

Mobile sponsorships
National Public Radio is rolling out voice-activated mobile ads to its app that run after news reports.

Lumber Liquidator is the first advertiser to sign-on to NPR?s app with a campaign that aims to drive app downloads. 

The ad includes a 15-second call-to-action. Consumers are then prompted to speak into a device?s microphone if they want to download the app, and a landing page pulls in the app?s content from Apple?s App Store.

The idea is that a typical radio ad repeats the same call-to-action multiple times, which can be annoying and requires a consumer to take an action later. 

With the audio ads, consumers can take an action immediately, per Pat Higbie, CEO of XappMedia, Washington. NPR?s ads are powered by Xapp.

Other use cases for the ads include audio samples from musicians? albums or audiobooks. 

According to Mr. Moffett, the new ads are positioned to avoid transactional calls-to-action such as 'buy now', which NPR does not allow advertisers to use.

These new ads also help NPR gear up for the launch of a new app later this spring that will include personalized local and national programming, with future plans to extend news to more connected devices. 

In addition to leveraging the voice-recognition ads for sponsorships, NPR will also use the technology to bulk up memberships in the new app.

?The app is the first endpoint of a platform we're building to support this experience in any number of endpoints, from apps to the Web to connected cars, and one day probably not too far off, refrigerators,? Mr. Moffett said.

Targeted messaging
Tribune Co. also recently rolled out a new voice-based app that aggregates 7,000 newspaper and Web stories that consumers can choose to have read aloud (see story).

The app is being supported by audio ads that are placed between news segments, similar to the mobile experience on Pandora or Spotify.

It is no surprise that publishers are scrambling to make as much money out of mobile as possible as the medium continues to see an uptick in smartphone and tablet traffic.

For Tribune Co. and NPR, the shift to audio-based ads and advertising also underscores the impact that mobile has on traditional news publishers rooted in either print or radio.

?Audio-based ads leverage traditional radio advertising from a creative perspective, and consumers are very used to this type of advertising as they have been engaging with it for 80-plus years,? said Ross Sleight, said chief strategy officer at Somo, London.

?It is an easy transition from a traditional form of advertising to an innovative mobile application delivering content in context to consumers,? he said.

However, as consumers become more comfortable seeing and interacting with mobile ads, audio-based units could help up engagement rates with mobile ads.

?We think audio interactions can become a natural form of interaction for all mobile ads that require consumer input,? said Mahi de Silva, CEO of Opera Mediaworks, San Mateo, CA. 

?Where one can use the microphone or the virtual keyboard - whatever the consumer is most comfortable with.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York