Skype is showing display ads from Visa, Groupon, Universal and others on its home tab-marking the voice over IP service's first jaunt into ad serving that could expand to other areas of the PC calling platform.
Skype allows users to make free local and cheap long-distance calls, including video-chat sessions, from their PCs to other PCs, landlines and mobile phones. The service has 29 million concurrent users, with 663 million people worldwide who have downloaded a Skype client to a PC or mobile phone.
This large network of users makes the Skype platform a natural target for making money from advertising, though the company has resisted doing so in the past because it didn't want to clutter the user experience.
Since filing for an IPO in August, Skype has clearly changed its approach. The company began quietly testing ads from its partner Rdio in the past two months and is now ramping for a wider rollout, starting with an ad from Visa, which users can see in the Skype for Windows home tab now.
Only users in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany will initially see ads, which will include spots from Groupon and Universal Pictures. Skype is also starting slow, showing ads from one brand per day in markets where ads are being sold. Google's DoubleClick display ad platform surfaces the ads when users click on them.
Skype may eventually show ads in other areas in the future, but declined to say where. The company promised that Skype wouldn't introduce pop-up ads or glittering banner ads while users are in the middle of Skype chat sessions.
"We believe that advertising, when done in the right way, will help us continue to invest in developing great products," said Skype CMO Doug Bewsher in a blog post March 7.
Bewsher said Skype will use vague demographic data, such as location, gender and age, to properly target ads to its users. However, this will not include personally identifiable info such as names and addresses.
Moreover, users can opt out of allowing Skype to share its demographic data with advertisers from the Privacy tab in Tools, under options.
eBay, which resold the majority of Skype to investors in 2009, and its investor partners helped Skype file for an IPO last August.
While the majority of its income came from its SkypeOut product for low-cost calling to landlines and mobile devices, the company said it expected to boost revenues from new products.
These include group video calling, licensing and marketing, and Skype for Business products. Ads are now clearly part of the money-making mix.