Amid a torrent of recent Alexa announcements Amazon made a small change that a few people have noticed. It added a restriction from including advertising in Alexa skills. In a section of the developer portal called Alexa Skills Kit Policy Testing, Amazon lists a number of restrictions. Alongside trademark, COPPA and pornography restrictions is a prohibition of advertising. Language on the page states:
If Amazon determines that your skill contains, facilitates, or promotes content that is prohibited by these policy guidelines, we will reject the submission and notify you using the e-mail address associated with your developer account.
According to the Wayback Machine, the old policy restriction #6 read simply:
At some point earlier this week, the page was updated. Advertising became the new policy restriction #5 and the old #6(a) was modified before becoming the new #5(b). This removed the specificity of “for products or services” to now read that any advertising using Alexa’s voice is prohibited. That makes the restriction broader, but doesn’t change the spirit of Amazon’s original intent to ensure Alexa’s voice is not used for advertising other than for Amazon’s own promotions. However, #5(a) was a new and noteworthy addition.
Streaming Music, Radio and Flash Briefings Can Include Ads
The revised policy appears to explicitly permit advertising for streaming music, radio and flash briefing skills. That should come as good news to several publishers that are already running ads through their skills and flash briefings. It should probably include the term “podcasts” specifically as there are several that have ads embedded in their audio files.
All Other Advertising Through Alexa Skills is Prohibited
It appears that all other advertising through Alexa skills is prohibited, regardless of whether Alexa’s voice is used. Monetization of Alexa skills is a big topic within the Alexa developer community. Right now most developers have no clear way to earn income on the skills they are developing other than to send people to a payment page or monetize outside of the skill. Advertising was seen by some as an avenue to generate revenue.
Voicebot was the first to report last week that VoiceLabs was developing a new program of “sponsored messages” within Alexa skills. Voicebot caught up with VoiceLabs CEO Adam Marchick to ask him about the change.
It is tough to build a developer ecosystem and Amazon is still trying to figure out its policy. The policy change they made yesterday is significant and I can understand why they did it. They are really cautious about the consumer experience. That is why we have been collaborating with Amazon so closely. They were aware of the ‘sponsored message’ program we have been running at scale for the last number of months. We have created a new type of ad unit and a new form of audio advertising that consumers are acceptant of and are effective for advertisers. And, we have validated through extensive testing.
The change doesn’t impact VoiceLabs ‘sponsored message’ program because we have 1300 developers on our platform and many of them have flash briefings. We are going live in May with a bunch of them and they are really excited to be supported for their efforts. This is really significant for customer skill developers though. Let’s say there are 3000 flash briefing skills. What are the other 10,000 skills developers that have invested even more in developing their skills going to do for monetization? This needs to be addressed.
Voicebot has reached out to Amazon, but no response had been reached at the time of publication. The post will be updated if a response is received.
Is the Google Influencing the Change
An independent Alexa developer pointed out to me that Amazon may feel it can add more restrictions because it is already less restrictive than Google which has a complete ban on ads within Google Assistant.
However, Google also has a much smaller developer ecosystem and everyone was aware of this restriction from the beginning. The negative reaction of Alexa developers is likely driven by the view that something is being taken away. With that said, the Google restriction only applies to third party developers. As Voicebot readers know, Google ran an ad for Disney last month and received a strongly negative backlash from users. This may have also influenced Amazon’s decision to increase restrictions.
How Will Developers Monetize Alexa Skills
Advertising may not be the best way to monetize Alexa skills. That still needs to be proven in the market. However, it is a model that has worked in other areas and Amazon is permitting it for some classes of Alexa skills. It seems strange to have two classes of developers in terms of prohibitions, but as Mr. Marchick pointed out, Amazon may still be figuring out the balance between consumer experience and monetization. Things could change again. Until then, you can listen to Alexa pitch you advertised products for sale anytime by saying, “Alexa, what are today’s deals.”
The key takeaway? If you have a streaming music or radio Alexa skill or a flash briefing, ads are not prohibited. If you built a custom Alexa skill, you can’t run ads. No matter who you are, you can’t run ads on Google Home, especially if you are Burger King.