When you think about how long audio-based advertisements have been around, it makes you wonder why nobody has capitalised on them for the mobile games market.
It's a niche that new monetisation platform AudioMob is looking to fill, as it opens up its beta program for its rewarded audio ads platform, made simple to implement through a Unity plug-in.
Despite only starting the company in January 2020, founder and CEO Christian Facey had already had his eye on the market, thanks both to his professional experience at Google and Facebook and his interest in making mobile games and music.
"We were noticing the traction of Spotify and more people adopting listening to music as a new standard via mobile phones, and we also saw that in the VC space as well, there were lots of interesting things going on in audio investments," says Facey.
For example, audio ads service provider Triton Digital was acquired by E.W. Scripps in 2018 for $150 million, while streaming service Pandora picked up audio ads tech firm AdsWizz for $145 million in the same year.
"There was a lot of interesting noise within the audio space, and we started noticing that the CPMs were quite high that were being paid on Spotify, and things like that," notes Facey.
"On the gaming side of things, it wasn't so much that we noticed a gap in the space, but we always knew through speaking to clients, and from our own experiences playing mobile games, that full-screen ads are really, really annoying, but it's what the industry is built up on."
Full-screen ads are really, really annoying, but it's what the industry is built up onChristian Facey
This knowledge stayed with Facey for some time, until eventually he had what he describes as a "lightbulb moment", leading to the rapid setting up of AudioMob.
"When you're listening to Spotify, and the CPMs that are being paid in order to block a user from listening to a music track, we were thinking, if the CPMs are high enough, could these kind of audio ads compete within the gaming space, in a way where the user doesn't have to watch a video ad?" says Facey.
From that moment, Facey and co-founder & CTO Wilfrid Obeng, an ex-Google engineer, began to experiment with the idea of rewarded audio ads, leading to investment in the company. But it hasn't been easy getting to this point - after all, it's not something any company had done before.
"We're taking a format that's traditionally used in podcasting, and before that radio, and bringing that into gaming, whereas video and rewarded video have been in gaming for a long time," says Obeng.
"It involved a lot of working with our audio partner, Triton, and us developing, and from all the work we'd done, filing a patent against it as well, so there's a lot of work we've done converting traditional podcast inventory and those audio ads into something that are intractable in a game, meaning that it plays, it sends all of the tracking information in terms of how the user listened to the ad, and also has a clickable element, that works all on mobile as well."
Brave new world
While the technological side offers up some challenges, there's still the question of why nobody has tried to do audio ads in games before. But for Facey, it's simply the case that nobody could have until now, thanks to the rise of music streaming platforms and the "podcast revolution".
"The rise in the amount of users, only over the last couple of years, has also spurred the increase in digital audio ad spending," notes Facey.
"An advertiser is always looking for, where is the growth, where are the eyes, or in this case the ears, and now it's in podcasts.
"So now you've got a lot of audio advertisers looking to advertise even more on all of these music mediums, to the point where, I wouldn't say it's becoming saturated, but it's definitely becoming more crowded than it was."
Streaming and podcasts aren't the only markets to have rapidly grown, of course. Mobile games themselves have seen adoption numbers rocket over recent years, thanks both to new styles of gameplay and better devices allowing for higher-quality games. Combine those two factors and you have a market primed for this new monetisation option.
There's a lot of work we've done converting traditional podcast inventory and those audio ads into something that are intractable in a gameWilfrid Obeng
Getting the word out
But what do these ads actually look like in game? Obeng says that they can fill pretty much the same role as a rewarded video ad, but with one key difference - they won't interrupt your game.
He points to a typical rewarded ad scenario, in which the player dies and is offered a free life if they watch an ad. Where rewarded video freezes the player out of the game for 30 seconds, an audio ad would allow players to instantly respawn and keep playing while the ad plays in the background.
This is of particular interest for developers who are already working with AudioMob, who are interested both in creating a positive user experience and retaining their players. Feedback from these studios has been "really positive", according to Obeng.
"In one of our games, they use the AudioMob technology between levels," he explains, "but it means that there's no 30 second block while you go to the next level, it actually means that it just transitions directly into the next level and the audio ad is playing in between, and then when it's finished, it just disappears."
It means players are happier, since the flow of the game is no longer interrupted, and happy players are more likely to leave positive reviews - and keep playing the game in the future.
But player counts don't mean much if you're not also generating revenue, something which AudioMob is keenly aware of. For one thing, audio ads don't have to be used instead of rewarded video, and can be used as an additional monetisation option on top of existing ads.
"Of the users that don't install an app, or install a game, after watching a video ad, in order to get an in-game reward, we can target those users during gameplay," explains Facey.
"Rather than cannibalising your rewarded video, you're targeting users, and providing incremental revenues for the game developer, because the ad unit is in a different slot, a different area of the game."
And these ads are monetising pretty well to boot. Facey notes that while a traditional banner ad may net $1-2 "if you're lucky", an audio-enhanced banner ad can raise that revenue to between $2 and $30.
As for outright replacing rewarded videos, Facey states that rewarded audio ads can sometimes outperform the full screen interstitials, as well as providing the aforementioned improved flow and retention that comes with making ads less intrusive on the user experience.
We are basically setting up the infrastructure to connect the $18 billion audio ad industry to the $70 billion gaming industryChristian Facey
Word of mouth
The beta for AudioMob's platform is open now, though there is a waitlist to stop the team from getting overwhelmed by developers looking to take a look. AudioMob even gamified the waiting list for developers eager to jump the queue.
Once a studio is in, however, they'll have a full onboarding process with the developer relations team, complete with a full dashboard and API for the Unity plug-in to make implementing the new ad format in their games even easier.
And now is a good time to get in on the ground floor, as the company has a lot of irons in the fire. AudioMob is not only dedicated to helping developers out - it's also looking to do more research and development to help out other ad networks to make ads less intrusive.
It has even bigger plans for the future, including looking outside of just games into mobile apps in general, and potentially moving beyond just audio ads into music discovery within mobile games.
"Each mobile application could become a mechanism for music discovery, that is something that we are very interested in working on," says Facey.
But for now, AudioMob is focused on its open beta and bringing audio ads into the mobile games space - or as Facey puts it, "we are basically setting up the infrastructure to connect the $18 billion audio ad industry to the $70 billion gaming industry."