Back in September, Microsoft unveiled some Live Search improvements at its Searchification event, but apparently that wasn’t all they had up their sleeve as today they announced more Live Search enhancements, directed mostly at local and mobile searchers.
Microsoft has agreed to acquire European cell phone ad company ScreenTonic to try to gain a foothold in that rapidly growing market.
Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker, did not disclose the financial terms of the deal announced Thursday. Paris-based ScreenTonic is one of the first companies in Europe to develop a platform to manage and place ads on the mobile Internet.
ScreenTonic also serves as an advertising agency for companies looking to develop marketing campaigns on phones. Investors in the start-up include venture capital firm 3i and I-Source Gestion, according to ScreenTonic’s Web site.
ScreenTonic, based in Paris and founded in 2001, will become part of Microsoft’s Digital Advertising Solutions group, created in September 2006 to sell advertising across its devices such as the Xbox gaming system and its Web sites.
ScreenTonic’s platform, called Stamp, enables delivery of text or banner links on portals, ads in SMS (Short Message Service) messages, and ads in mobile Web pages that vary depending on where the reader is located.
It’s not clear at this stage how attractive any of these possibilities are for a cell phone user and consequently for advertisers, but presumably some sort of ads will be ubiquitous and Microsoft wants to get an early start in mobile phone advertising so they won’t be as late to the party as they were with Web advertising.
Update: The official Microsoft press release on the ScreenTonic acquisition has more verbiage and while we are on the subject of Microsoft acquisitions in the mobile space, Microsoft also announced the completion of the acquisition of Tellme Networks.
On Friday of last week, US regulators approved Microsoft’s acquisition of Tellme Networks and the new member of the Microsoft family didn’t let any grass grow under its feet as it announced three free consumer services on Tuesday that will allow users to search for local businesses by speaking or typing their question, and then hearing or seeing the answer:
- Tellme by Voice: Call 1-800-555-TELL and just say “business search” to find a business listing or search for a particular category, such as “flower shops,” from any phone, including a map for the selected listing. Callers can also choose from many other great services like movie tickets, ring tones, sports, news and more.
- Tellme by Text: Send a text message to TELLM (83556) with a business request such as “starbucks san francisco ca” or “pizza boston ma” and get a text message back with the listing and a link to a map.
- Tellme by Mobile: Speak your request and then see the results displayed on your phone screen for a voice + visual search, including maps and driving directions. Download the Tellme by Mobile beta by visiting http://www.tellme.com (or http://m.tellme.com from your mobile phone).
Nothing’s better than free, but one can’t help but wonder where the pony is, since today mobile phone carriers generally charge for 411 calls. Tellme co-founder Angus Davis explains the new services will likely be supported by ads and that the mobile phone service:
… will be available on 50 of the most popular phones from Sprint and Cingular, Davis says. For now, it works with phones built on the Symbian mobile platform and those that run Sun Microsystems’ Java software. Tellme also plans a version for Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform.
Looks like Microsoft has some integration work to do on both the technical and monetization sides.
The previous rumors were confirmed today as Microsoft formally announced the acquitisition of Tellme Networks:
Microsoft Corp. today announced it will acquire Tellme Networks, Inc., a leading provider of voice services for everyday life, including nationwide directory assistance, enterprise customer service and voice-enabled mobile search. Microsoft and Tellme share a vision around the potential of speech as a way to enable access to information, locate other people and enhance business processes, any time and from any device. Combining Tellme’s talented people and expertise in high-volume voice services with Microsoft’s platform, resources and worldwide customer reach will inspire new and innovative solutions.
Tellme is a leader in voice services for the phone, including its popular mobile search services on 1-800-555-TELL. Founded in 1999, the privately held company answers millions of calls every day for information such as finding local businesses, driving directions, sports scores, stock quotes, weather, news, movie show times and more. Businesses use Tellme’s voice services and platform to provide customers with voice-access services ranging from banking to package tracking. These services are built on Tellme’s voice platform that analyzes caller requests to continually improve the system’s accuracy and overall caller experience.
Potential areas of development resulting from the deal will range from hosted voice-enabled customer service solutions that complement Microsoft’s existing unified communications offerings to voice user interfaces in existing Microsoft products to search services on mobile phones that integrate with Live Search for mobile offerings. In addition, developers and partners will be able to build new speech-based solutions on top of a scalable, standards-based voice-enabled applications platform.
Financial terms of the acquisition were not announced. The deal is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2007. Tellme, which has more than 320 employees, will continue to operate from its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters as part of the Microsoft Business Division. Following the closing of the acquisition, the Tellme business is expected to be maintained, and members of the Tellme executive team and staff are expected to join Microsoft.
Microsoft’s Don Dodge says that voice/mobile search is the target market as does Om Malik who has other interesting buzz about the deal including a price tag between $800M and $1B, the expectation that the Tellme executives will stay on, and an estimate of Tellme’s non-glitzy but lucrative automated call center business at $100M per year.