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The next time you listen to the news on an Amazon Alexa you might hear an ad for Wendy’s Baconator.

Voice computing analytics company VoiceLabs today announced the launch of Sponsored Messages, a service that lets Alexa developers monetize their skills with advertisements.

The first Sponsored Messages advertisers include ESPN, Wendy’s, and Progressive Insurance. To hear what an ad sounds like, try the San Francisco for Local News flash briefing in the Alexa Skills Store.

The advertising plan sits on top of the VoiceLabs analytics platform. To start advertising, developers must request to join. Once they’re in, they just check a box that asks if they’d like to monetize, then choose which ads to run, VoiceLabs CEO Adam Marchick told VentureBeat in a phone interview.


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The fledgling ad network is possible due to a recent change in policy for Alexa skills developers. Last month, as people took Google to task for Beauty and the Beast and Burger King ads, Amazon declared that Alexa skills developers weren’t allowed to include advertising.

Since then, the policy has changed to allow ads in flash briefings, streaming music, and streaming radio. Roughly 3,000 of the 13,000 skills in the Alexa Skills Store fit this description, Marchick said. The cadence on how often an advertisement plays is determined by the skill creator.

“Once they [an Alexa skill user] get a first ad, they might not get another ad for 30 sessions, all configurable by the developer,” Marchick said.

With more than 13,000 skills, Alexa clearly has the largest voice app ecosystem right now, but Marchick said he wants the ad network to make its way to other third-party voice app ecosystems emerging around Cortana and Google Assistant. By comparison, about two dozen Cortana skills made their debut Wednesday, while Google Assistant has more than 200 actions.

Amazon began to allow developers to learn the location of users earlier this year, so VoiceLabs ads can be targeted by location, but more permissions are required from Amazon in order to target specific demographics, Marchick said.

“We can’t do what Amazon doesn’t enable, and Amazon doesn’t enable identity so we can’t do that specific level of targeting,” he said.

VoiceLabs is currently used by more than 1,000 developers creating Google Assistant actions and Alexa skills.

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