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What's the fuss about Pudding Media?

Pudding Media is a company that continues to court controversy.  Their proposition is pretty simple — they want to provide contextually targeted advertisements during telephone calls, much the same way that Google does during web searches, and while using email.  According to founder Ariel Maislos, they can increase the effectiveness of these advertisements by an order of magnitude with this simple step.  Their objective is to enable heavily subsidized conversations.  The controversy?  Their system picks keywords out of the speech stream in order to do so.  It listens in on the conversation.

This week Pudding announced an agreement with Meebo to voice enable the Meebo client, and to add their unique advertising capability.  Under the terms of the agreement, Pudding will supply a flash based VoIP client to Meebo, as well as run the voice service on their behalf.  This agreement is a little unusual in that ordinarily Pudding wouldn't provide the voice services directly, but Maislos sees this as the beginning of a partner program where they can start to bring in other voice service providers who also want to deliver subsidized communications.

The Meebo client will enable a VoIP call to occur, and then during the call Pudding will cycle relevant text advertisements on screen as the participants speak.  It's also an option to insert targeted audio advertising before or after the conversation, but not during the conversation.  Pudding views mid-call audio advertisements as simply too intrusive.

More than one person I spoke with had the misconception that Pudding would be interrupting the call. Once it was explained, they were more receptive to Pudding's concept.  After all, who hasn't seen advertising on web pages before?  Judging from the reaction of some of the vendors I spoke with at VON, Pudding's message of supplementing diminishing voice revenues with advertising dollars is being well received. 

My prediction?  The controversy around contextually targeted advertising during telephone calls will pass as vendors adopt the technology… and consumers will use it.  The lure of cheap or free is simply too great.

{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Brad Templeton November 1, 2007, 10:42 am

    "The controversy around contextually targeted advertising during telephone calls will pass"

    Oddly, this sentence is part of why people are squicked by Pudding. A world where computers routinely listen to and decode our phone calls and nobody pays much attention to it is disturbing. It starts with Pudding doing it on your own PC, but people have to wonder where it goes once people get used to it. People had the same reaction to GMail and computer processing of E-mail is inherent to E-mail, though keyword lookup on it wasn't.

    But it's your other sentence I find wrong. "The lure of cheap or free is simpy too great." PC based VoIP calls have been free for ages, and PC based calls to landlines have been super cheap for ages and are dropping. I don't see much lure.

  • Alec November 1, 2007, 10:46 am

    Hey Brad 😉 PC to landline are cheap, but not free and every time alternate service providers dance close to free they get burned because it costs money to connect to POTS, despite what the end user marketing program says… so my contention is that people want "free or cheap", and the ad supplemented model might be a way to do it, especially if the ads are relevant.

  • Brad Templeton November 1, 2007, 11:18 pm

    Would you use it? I didn't think so. Domestic termination is 1/2 cent to 1 cent. Who is interested in giving up their attention for that price, which you can get if you care about it. Pudding for now is VoIP only, in fact I think it's PC to PC only which means you would rather use Skype, but I expect they will change that.

    They also think that people will actually prefer to have pudding up, ie. if you start talking about movies with your buddy and suddenly ads for movies show up, you will find that a plus. But not much for me. On my PC the unbiased movie listings and rotten tomato ratings are a bookmark click away, I don't want movie information with a bias to save that penny.

    But we'll see. Pudding wanted me to consult for them. I declined.

  • Alec November 2, 2007, 4:46 am

    You're asking the wrong question Brad. It's not about whether I would choose to use a pudding enabled client to make VoIP calls. It's about whether the businesses that sell those VoIP calls find it attractive to earn the extra revenue that pudding will deliver to them. Consumers aren't going to see the ads as a benefit, but in my opinion, neither will they see them as a negative.

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