Microsoft is hoping to tap into the huge customer base of Skype by launching what it calls “Conversational Ads” for the popular VoIP service.
The news is the first tangible sign of Microsoft’s commercial intentions over Skype since it acquired the company last year for $8.5 billion (£5.5bn). It also signals the end of Skype being an advert-free online service.
The news of the adverts was revealed on the Skype corporate blog, which claims the adverts will be unobtrusive, in that they will be silent and non expanding (see picture). More good news is that the adverts will only appear during one-to-one audio calls for those Windows Skype users who do not have Skype credit or a subscription.
“We’re excited to introduce Conversations Ads as an opportunity for marketers to reach our hundreds of millions of connected users in a place where they can have meaningful conversations about brands in a highly engaging environment,” wrote Venkatachalam.
“While on a 1:1 audio call, users will see content that could spark additional topics of conversation that are relevant to Skype users and highlight unique and local brand experiences,” she wrote. “Ultimately, we believe this will help make Skype a more engaging and useful place to have your conversations each and every day.”
The blog post also said that Conversation Ads will be available to marketers in 55 markets, and that “Skype call quality will remain the same”.
Yet despite the optimistic tone of Skype’s Venkatachalam, for many Skype users the news will be an unwelcome development.
And already some users have taken to online forums to complain about the move.
“Skype calls to feature ads big enough to interrupt any conversation. This is what happens when MS gets their hands on anything decent and ruin it for users,” wrote a user called Belahur on the PC Help Forum.
Other users said they would look at alternatives such as Google Voice, or whether blocking scripts would be developed.
In an effort to deflect user criticism of potential privacy issues for the adverts, Skype said it may use “non-personally identifiable demographic information (e.g. location, gender and age) to target ads. This will help ensure that non-paying users see ads that are of greater interest and relevance to them.”
Last month Microsoft revealed that it is going to enable PC manufacturers to preinstall a Skype application on their brand new Windows 7 PCs that they ship to consumers and distributors.
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