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VoiceLabs suspends its Amazon Alexa skill ad network

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VoiceLabs has suspended its Sponsored Messages program, one of the first ad networks available for developers who make Alexa skills. VoiceLabs had experimented with Alexa skill ads since January, and launched Sponsored Messages publicly a little over a month ago with advertisers like ESPN and Wendy’s, but the voice analytics company chose to suspend its ad network after Amazon updated its Alexa advertising policy to forbid any use of Alexa’s voice or imitation of an Alexa interaction.

“The May 21 policy change by Amazon really drove home that the market is not ready. VoiceLabs and our partners were most excited to introduce interactive advertising that converses with consumers to create innovative experiences,” VoiceLabs CEO Adam Marchick said in a blog post Tuesday. “This ability to react to user preferences opens the door to a whole new field of audio advertising, and the May 21 policy prevents this.”

While pre-roll ads from VoiceLabs may no longer be available, there’s plenty for sale within the Alexa ecosystem. Advertising is still allowed for streaming radio, podcasts, or flash briefing skills, and skills can still be made for product promotion, or to sell products and services.

Companies like VoiceLabs and Mattersight, who wants to create personality profiles for the users of voice apps based on their word usage, have expressed interest in advertising with intelligent assistants, but for Siri, Alexa, and other assistants that want to be part of everything you do in life, advertising has been a somewhat prickly subject.

In April, a Burger King commercial that invasively, purposely said “OK Google” to set off Google Homes all over the place sent the internet into a tizzy. A Beauty and the Beast ad also had a negative response.

Following these events, Amazon changed its terms of service to forbid ads in a skill. That would later be changed to allow for radio, podcast, or flash briefing skills, which is roughly 1,300 of the 13,000 skills available today in the Alexa Skills Store.

“There were a few consumers unhappy with the advertising, but statistically, consumers accepted the ads and kept using the Alexa skills at the same rate, and developers were elated to finally have a real revenue stream,” Marchick said.

VoiceLabs will continue to operate its voice analytics business, which is currently used by more than 1,000 developers who create Google Assistant actions and Alexa skills. One of the only voice apps analytics companies around, VoiceLabs was an early partner for the launch of the Actions on Google platform.

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