U.K. Ad-Funded Mobile Broadband Startup, Samba Mobile, Raises Sub-£1M In Second Angel Round

Samba Mobile, a UK startup founded in 2010 which incentivises ad-watching by offering free 3G mobile broadband for desktop PC, laptop and tablet users in exchange for watching video adverts, has raised just shy of £1m — £929,000 — in equity capital in its second round of angel investment.

Investors include David Wheldon, formerly an ad director at Coca Cola, ex Tempus Board Member and a former Global Brand Director at Vodafone; and Richard Brennan, one of the original founding execs of carrier Orange. “The Samba service has already hit the ground running with sign-ups moving faster than initial expectations. This of course makes the company a highly investible prospect since they have proven the business case for providing ad funded mobile broadband,” said Brennan in a statement.

The startup said the investment round will be used for product development — to further enhance its brand engagement platform by adding social features, ad rankings and introducing short-form premium content — typically content that sits behind a pay wall — to be accessible to users in return for ad view credit.

Samba wouldn’t go into detail about exactly what the social features will entail but said they will focus on what users are doing with the content, citing factors such as “top shares, top posts to social sites, top CTRs by category and brand” as an initial first step.  Subsequently social features will show users what other users with similar viewing habits are doing — e.g. ‘users who shared this video on Facebook also shared x, y, and z’.

The ultimate aim of the current round of product development will be to develop social ‘short cuts’ to a user’s preferred brand video and content by crowdsourcing behaviour across the platform and making recommendations according to how similar users consume ads and content, said CEO Ben Atherton.

The Samba service, which launched in the U.K. back in July, has garnered 6,000 users so far and generates more than one million ad views per month. Samba users earn mobile broadband credits for the Three mobile network by watching video ads in their own personalised Samba dashboard. The company claims it’s able to deliver strong engagement levels for ads viewed via its service — including higher than average click through rates, shares and dwell times. Ad content is provided by social ad aggregators and display networks, and Samba says it has run hundreds of campaigns for premium brands such as Toyota, Levi’s, Nivea, Dove and Volvo.

Atherton told TechCrunch the startup improves user engagement with online adverts in two ways: firstly via the ‘value exchange’ — whereby ad watchers have an incentive to watch since they are getting something in return — and also by allowing users to select the ads they want to watch. Albeit, Samba is not the first startup to try and use the lure of free connectivity to incentivise ad-watching — Blyk‘s been ploughing a similar furrow for years (though no longer as a customer-facing brand).

“Ad partners, above all, get an engaged audience. Large parts of the online advertising model are broken — because they are interruptive. People don’t browse to consume advertising, they browse to consume content. This is the problem most advertisers face and that Samba provides a solution to because users both select ads and are offered a ‘value exchange’ for their attention,” said Atherton.

“The value exchange model is a new and growing phenomenon by audience demand for brand dialogue — people increasingly want to have dialogue with, and shape brands, and Samba and other models in social video enable this. Because our users actively select ads, engagement metrics (such as CTRs and dwell times) are significantly above the norm, and we are also finding brand empathy (i.e. receptiveness to brand messaging and call to action) is superior.”

To make use of any connectivity credits they have earned, Samba users have to pay to buy either a Samba Micro-SIM (costing £5) — for use in an iPad — or a SIM and dongle (costing £25). Users earn 3.5MB of mobile broadband data credit for every ad view — although they are required to watch an entire ad to gain the credit. They can also pay to top up connectivity: a 250MB top-up costs £3.50; 500MB costs £5.00.

Explaining Samba’s present focus on larger screens — i.e. laptops/tablets — Atherton said it “allows a more powerful video experience”, but he added that the company won’t be ignoring mobile eyeballs forever. “[Larger screens are] where our initial focus is. However, Samba works on mobile currently, and we will focus further on mobile going forward.”