Putting the Fun in Ad-Funded Entertainment

Earlier this week at Microsoft’s Advance08 conference, Robbie Bach and Mark Kroese presented some examples of how the company is putting the fun in ad-funded experiences on three screens – TV, PC, and Mobile devices, with content examples including Gaming , Video, Music, and Mobile scenarios.  I wanted to provide a few additional thoughts about what was shown to the audience of advertisers but with a consumer perspective.  It’s our job to make sure there is a clear value for the consumer, often in the form of “free stuff” in exchange for a sponsorship message that’s lightweight (read, doesn’t piss off the consumer) while meeting the goals of the brand advertiser who is footing the bill.  Here are a few examples:

clip_image001 Gaming – Among the 12M+ Xbox 360 owners, nearly 10M have Xbox Live accounts, connecting to the community to participate in multiplayer games and community activities such as tournaments.  One of the most popular features on Xbox Live are the free downloads – for example, a recent Nissan/Forza 2 Motorsport promotion involved a free downloadable car pack for in-game play, and an online tournament where the winner won an actual Nissan car. 

The Result: Over 350,000 downloads of the free car pack, and over 6.7 million game sessions played during the tournament.

Video -  Movies are universally appealing, and Xbox Live Video Marketplace is no different.  McDonald’s recently completed their “Burgercon” promotion on Xbox Live by offering a free movie download to all Xbox Live users, in this case “Austin Powers”.

The Result: The movie became the most popular movie ever downloaded on Xbox Live.


Music  & Mobile – Like Movies, Music is also universally appealing and a largely social type of experience.  Zune Social is an online community where Zune owners can opt-in to share their music interests and listens with friends.  In the past four months, nearly 2 million Zune owners have chosen to participate the new Zune Social.  One concept we’re piloting this summer is the ability to connect with artists and music events as “friends” on the Social.  The goal is to take what’s been so successful on Xbox with gaming and video, and extend that value exchange to music enthusiasts on Zune Social.  The experience is a microsite on Zune Social, offering free music and video downloads, sponsored by brands such as Doritos in the example shown and connected to music downloads from the CMJ Music Festival. 

Rule #1 is, “Put music in their ears and a smile on their face,” so we’re going to be very careful in how sponsorship messages are presented.  In the example shown this week, it’s just a background wallpaper with attribution to Doritos – no in-song ads as some have speculated.  As a Zune Social member, I’d 4Y6H4970have to opt-in to download this Zune Card, and even then, it would be presented separate from my music library.  Brand sponsorship might be displayed in album art or wallpaper on the downloaded playlist that includes a small brand logo such as the image of the Zune 80 from the demo at the right.  We’ve had no discussions about putting ads into song tracks or the like- that would go against rule #1!  But like game and movies downloads, someone has to pay to offer the free and legitimate download. We’re finding just like at music concerts, there are plenty of brands interested in sponsorship opportunities, in this case offering free downloads in exchange for creating a positive connection with music lovers. 

As mentioned, this is a pilot launching this summer, will always be opt-in and the team will be actively soliciting your feedback.  Just like on Xbox, the goal is to put the “fun” in ad-funded downloads with Zune.  Trust is earned and there are plenty who will assume the worst- that’s part of the fun (and the challenge) of my new job.

5 responses to “Putting the Fun in Ad-Funded Entertainment”

  1. When I pay for an experience, such as XBOX Live or even a .Mac account, it is 100% my expectation that I will never have an advertisement placed. So, in order for this to not "piss" off the user, I now need a choice in XBOX Live to have a free Gold Membership that is ad sponsored or pay $49.99/year for no ads.

    I think you have to offer this for everything. For example, with the Zune, I will accept ads if all my music is now free. I don’t pay in subscription rates. If I select to pay the monthly subscription, then I expect zero ads in my experience.

    If this isn’t the promise, then you will lose viewership. Ads = free experiences where as pay = ad-free experiences..

  2. Sean, I actually believe that advertising driven music model has legs. Not quite sure what the right model but it will be really interesting to see where this goes. A while back I wrote some thoughts about it here: http://blog.tinytechtank.com/2008/02/06/is-free-ad-supported-music-the-future-of-online-music/. Have fun in your new job.

  3. If the advertising looks as nice and creative in the screenshots of Zune and on the Zune device above – I honestly don’t think I would have a problem with having advertising on my Zune or on my Zune Social stuff. I always believe choice is important though so there should be a opt-out or opt-in option. However I don’t see myself based off what’s shown in the above shots of opting out personally. Just as long as the advertising doesn’t overwhelm me or my experience.

  4. Reminds me of my first experience with any of these digital music services: Yahoo!’s Launch way back in the early ’00s. Two things I remember from those days: (1) every 15 minutes or so would be interrupted by a 10-second ad, but (2) I wouldn’t mind because Launch introduced me to some great, under-the-radar bands. So when the service provided is value-add (and free!), some ads every now and then were forgivable.

    Also, on the lighter side of things, the Human Giant boys do a hilarious sketch on mixing music and marketing: http://ie.youtube.com/watch?v=KTHIM5hnTd0

  5. Basically it is virus advertising as, you would judge have not wanted win the car playing the pleasure?