Google has officially launched its free 411 product. The number, 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411), makes business name and category search accessible from any U.S. telephone.
This is a product we originally uncovered in our report Wireless Voice Search: The Multi-Modal Revolution. At that time, Google was using the test number 877-520-FIND.
We have learned through other sources that Google is running ad inventory tests on Jingle Networks (1-800-FREE411) in two U.S. markets. Neither Jingle nor Google representatives would comment on this relationship.
We have speculated in the past that a free directory assistance business is a logical adjacent market for an audio ad serving business. Audio ads could be served on radio (through dMarc), in front of DA calls, podcasts, Internet radio and similar businesses.
A free DA product where consumers opt into SMS text messages for local numbers is basically a permission-based mobile marketing business. Once a consumer has opted to have SMS text messages sent to his or her mobile device, advertisements can also be included. This has been used to great effect in the U.K. by MIVA and 118 118. To date, Google is not running ads on the free service, but we expect that to change.
Mobile opportunities are part of what is driving the innovation in the U.S. DA market. In the past year, we have seen tremendous change. The Microsoft acquisition of TellMe gives the combined companies a tremendous strategic opportunity. Tellme handles roughly 50 percent of the U.S. DA calls through its partner network, and both companies have pro-carrier relationships. During the pre-briefing on the acquisition, Tellme representatives told us they handle more local directory searches than Yahoo! and Google combined.
Internet ad models and voice recognition systems are changing the landscape. Operator assisted calls are relatively expensive, averaging roughly US$0.16 wholesale, and make monetization more difficult. The following chart illustrates that by using a voice input instead of live operators, Internet ad models like AdWords can theoretically make monetization possible.
Voice Search and Operator Assisted Costs vs. Google RPS
These are new services that will take time to build ad coverage against. Regardless Google, MSN and Yahoo! have robust ad serving platforms and, as we predicted last year, we expect 2007 to be a year filled with market changing announcements.