Digiday’s Lucinda Southern reports that CNBC plans to sell ads in 2018 to monetize its Alexa flash briefing audience. The company first launched its Alexa presence in November 2016, published some niche properties such as Mad Money this year, and more recently added an international version targeting European and Asian users.
After promising levels of its audience returned each week to use its Alexa skill, CNBC’s global ad sales team will start selling audio sponsorship packages to advertisers in the next few months.
CNBC told Southern that its voice audience on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant doubled since January 2017, but declined to provide actual numbers. Doubling your audience in a year when the smart speaker audience grew by four times and voice assistant reach increased by an even greater factor is not impressive. However, the announcement highlights two things.
- Media publishers are anxious to monetize their content accessed through voice assistants.
- Media publishers are increasingly seeing voice users as an important audience for their content and advertisers.
Not the First to Monetize Flash Briefings
It is important to note that there is a common misunderstanding that Amazon’s Alexa policies prohibit advertising. That is true in a general sense, but there are several exceptions. CNBC’s efforts likely fall under the first exception that states:
Streaming music, streaming radio, podcast, and flash briefing skills may include audio advertisements as long as (1) the advertisements do not use Alexa’s voice or a similar voice, refer to Alexa, or imitate Alexa interactions and (2) the skill does not include more or materially different advertising than is included when the same or similar content is made available outside of Alexa.
CNBC can insert ads into flash briefings if those ads are similar to advertising used in its other channels. Digiday’s Max Willens pointed out in an October 2016 story that Washington Post had sold two sponsorships for its Alexa flash briefings. More recently Willens wrote about the difference between flash briefings which allow advertising and Alexa skills which do not. And, he mentioned that The Washington Post had shortened its flash briefing ads from 15 seconds to 10 seconds to reduce the likelihood of audiences skipping the ad and the flash briefing content entirely. So, selling ads is permitted for CNBC’s flash briefings and there is precedence for advertiser interest in the promotional format.
CNBC Says Audio Audiences are Loyal
Southern spoke with CNBC’s SVP of product and technology Deep Bagchee who also shared a sentiment about CNBC’s Alexa audience. The article reports:
When people interact with skills they are loyal: CNBC said audio audiences are the second most loyal behind those on its iOS and Android app.
The loyalty factor is key. Advertising always presents the risk turning off listeners and enticing them to skip the content or look elsewhere. Loyal audience members will put up with some interruptive advertising as long as it doesn’t disrupt the experience too much. For The Washington Post, cutting ad length by 5 seconds was an important decision. Regarding CNBC’s intentions, Southern concludes:
For next year, the goal for CNBC is more audience growth by promoting its voice assistant offering through CNBC’s other channels and creating a sustainable revenue model without compromising the user experience.