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On the Road to An IPO, Jingle Networks Prepares to Launch A Voice Ad Network.

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Jingle Networks has already captured a six percent market share of directory assistance calls with its 1-800-Free411 service. But, with IPO rumors swirling, that might not be a big enough business. What if Jingle expanded into a voice ad network? I have learned that it is preparing to do just that. Confirms CEO George Garrick:

At this point I’d call it the Jingle Ad Network. We have advertisers that want to get into more environments, and have technology to serve ads. We are talking to publishers about acquiring enough inventory to be significant. We are starting to sign deals with companies that have large numbers of calls. I imagine it will be a few months yet before we bring anything live, probably later in the third or fourth quarter.

Today, Jingle offers free directory assistance calls in exchange for playing two audio ads, one before the caller asks for the number and one before the number is given. Its Free411 service gets 20 million calls a month. That is 40 million advertising opportunities a month. Not every call can be matched with an ad, but a very large number can. Already, Jingle has more than 150,000 advertisers, many of them local. National advertisers include McDonald’s, Earthlink, AMC Theaters, FordDirect, Allstate, Cablevision, Columbia House, Days Inn, Miller Brewing Company, and Travelodge. Its top categories include stores, restaurants, banks, and doctor’s offices.

Jingle can use the call volume and ad inventory on Free411 as an anchor for a broader voice ad network. Any information line, movie line, or call center could hook into the ad network to lay ads while people are on hold. Most companies look at their call centers as a cost center. Being able to generate one to two cents per call in revenue would be significant for many companies. And as voice apps take off on the Web, that could present another opportunity, although Garrick says the call volume is not there yet. As with any ad network, it is a numbers game. The more call volume Jingle can fill with ads, the better its economics.

Does this mean, Jingle is preparing for an IPO. Garrick doesn’t rule it out. He says:

We expect to become profitable before the end of this year. If we look at the public markets, it won’t be until next year.

Jingle is not the first company to try to do this. Already, it faces competition from startup VoodooVox, which is building its own voice 2.0 ad network. VoodooVox claims that it currently powers 320 million ad-supported calls per month, and reaches 30 million consumers. But Jingle does have a leg up in that it already generates a lot of ad inventory on its own, and it is expanding its own free ad-supoprted calls to include driving directions, weather, and other information services.

Of course, there is always the specter of Google, which offers its own free Google411 directory assistance service. Google411 does not even have ads yet, and is treated more like a research project to test voice recognition algorithms. But Google could jump on the voice advertising train any time it wants.

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