I've heard someone call Skype ad recipients freeloaders, justifying the adverts. I don't think "free-loader" applies to Skype users that don't hand Skype money.
Skype's value proposition comes from the number of people connected to its network, the number of customers with dialtone. Without all those indirectly monetized customers, Skype wouldn't be growing, would be only a fraction of its size (ten million active users instead of a quarter billion?) and be no threat or much value to anyone.
Aside from how in-call ads butcher user experience and Skype's brand, this looks like a patient management decision.
Imagine the conversation. Skype's integration team is meeting one week with the Microsoft advertising folks, looking for surfaces where ads can flow.
Skype.com? Check; lots of visits, a top site worldwide. We can sell it like we do MSN.
Premium listings in Skype's directory search results? Skype did that in the past and we can try it again; let's add that to the development queue and see if we can pair that with Bing local search.
How about the Skype home tab seen when you start the client? Check; but very few people see this and click throughs are sub-par.
Can we place ads in the main window, where the screen real estate is precious and is on display all day? No; test users showed massive resistance and it interfered with basic use of the app. Yes, we know Windows Live Messenger (right, not Live anymore) has ads; why do you think we Messenger is a second-tier IM client?
How about ads in the calls themselves? Can we have intro announcements before the call connects? This delays the gratification between hitting the 'call' button and talking with someone; we have high abandonment.
OK, how about if we just show a display ad during a call? They can't close the window; they are stuck in a call, looking at the ad. And forget banner blindness; it's right next to the faces of the people they are calling, so we can almost guarantee the ad gets seen. If they don't like it they can click on a tiny 'close this ad' space; some will miss and we'll get a click; others will close it and we'll have even more proof they saw the ad. Right!
And if that doesn't work we can sell branded ringtones so this month millions of Skype clients ring to the KFC jingle.
Meanwhile, in another room...
Look, we all know the real money isn't in in-client advertising. But Skype for Azure won't be ready as a platform until next summer. Same with our Bing click-to-call service, our enterprise UC console, our Hangouts killer, and our talk-along-with-Netflix app. So let them have their monstrous ads; we'll measure the hell out of it and come back with hard data later this year. Meanwhile, smile, be supportive and make this whole we're-friends-with-the-suits thing work.
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