NPR Builds On Voice-Activated Ads With In-App Content Promos

nprNational Public Radio (NPR) faces a common audio app-publisher predicament – capturing the time and attention of ultra-mobile listeners.

About 78% of ads and content promos are served while an app is running in the background and the screen is dark, which makes it challenging for advertisers to know if their ads were seen, said Pat Higbie, cofounder and CEO of interactive audio and content platform XAPPmedia. The company on Thursday rolled out XAPP Content Promos, an extension of its existing voice-activated ads platform.

NPR had successfully used XAPP Ads in its smartphone app, which featured voice-activated prompts like “download app” or “buy it.” NPR has about a dozen advertisers using the units, which command roughly $20 CPMs or higher.

Advertisers ranging from car manufacturers to flooring retailers use voice-activated ads to prompt users to “learn more” by using one or two-word commands following an audio ad. One advertiser, Lumber Liquidators, ran a “download app” voice prompt to drive users to its Floor Finder app following an NPR News segment.

“If it’s not visual on the screen, voice is really the only option for engagement,” according to Bryan Moffett, VP of digital strategy and sponsorship operations at NPR subsidiary National Public Media.

Voice activation is also beneficial for sponsorship messages that run between NPR programs. Ordinarily, a visual ad on the app accompanies the audio spot, allowing listeners to tap the screen to go to the sponsor’s website or take some sort of action.

“That works fairly well, but when you [listen to NPR in the background], it’s difficult,” said Moffett, adding that as more people began using the app in the background, the performance of those interstitials declined.

NPR ran a test with a music publisher inviting users to listen to a short, 30-second album sample before they purchase.

“This ran in our NPR One where 80% of listening happens in background mode when the screen is dark,” Moffett noted. “The response rates blew us out of the water. A little over 3% of the people used their voice to listen to the sample and of the people who listened to the sample, 18% used their voice to go on to iTunes saying “buy now,” which was stunning to us.”

Moffett said Content Promos have improved engagement with its standard iPhone news app and a curated, continuous-listening app NPR One. This is how it works: once a podcast ends, the NPR app cuts to a preview of a new show, which trails out after 10-15 seconds. An announcer introduces the show and prompts the listener to say “Next” in order to listen to the full show.

By attaching content promos to existing content and promoting 10-15 second trailers for, say, “TED Radio Hour,” it exposes users to new channels. NPR has seen an average 13% voice click-through rate for the NPR One app.

Now, in addition to its own programming, NPR can use XAPP Content Promos to debut “custom channel content.” NPR produces a lot of content on a variety of topics, but it’s sometimes dispersed across multiple radio shows and day parts. Through the NPR One platform, NPR can seamlessly aggregate existing content along topic lines like books coverage, arts, movies, business, etc. to create custom channels. Once the user enters that channel and is tuning in to the content,” we can place normal sponsorships for sponsors who like to be contextually aligned with that content,” according to Moffett.

NPR will test two custom channel sponsorships in October.

Voice-activated ads and content promos entice listeners to take an action in a way that feels natural, he said.

XAPP’s Higbie said publishers and agencies have shown “very high interest” in voice activated units. Although NPR is the first publisher onboard with XAPP Content Promos, the next step for XAPP, Higbie added, will be scaling the format. A likely next move is activating interactive voice ads for such Internet radio apps as Spotify and Pandora, which Higbie said XAPP views more as partners than competitors.


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