Almost six months after AT&T (NYSE: T) announced its Sponsored Data program, there are now at least a handful of companies that are currently making use of the service in a commercial setting. Although vendors involved in the program declined to name most of the actual companies that are subsidizing the cost of users' data, Hershey's and Cut the Rope are among those that have been named publicly.
At least initially, it appears that AT&T's Sponsored Data program is being used almost exclusively by mobile advertising companies to defray the cost of users' access to mobile video advertisements. For example, Aquto founder and CEO Susie Kim Riley said that Hershey's is using the service to allow AT&T customers to view its video ads without worrying about those ads cutting into their monthly data allotment. And, she said, the results are significant--mobile users are 100 percent to 300 percent more likely to watch a mobile video ad if they know the cost of the data is subsidized, she said.
Kim Riley said that Scharffen Berger (a Hershey's premium chocolate brand) and ZeptoLab (creator of the hit app Cut the Rope) have been using Aquto's MoVE Zero mobile value exchange platform to take part in AT&T's Sponsored Data program. She said the platform supports a variety of innovative business models such as providing users with extra data on monthly data plan if they download a specific app. She said that advertisers typically pay Aquto for mobile advertising support and analytics, and then Aquto then pays AT&T for the bandwidth consumed by a user.
Aquto isn't alone in making use of AT&T's Sponsored Data program, which the carrier announced in January to allow advertisers and others to cover the cost of data users' access to their services. Syntonic Wireless and Hipcricket are the other two Sponsored Data providers listed by AT&T. Hipcricket said that it has a "handful" of advertising customers that are planning to launch service via AT&T's Sponsored Data in the near future, and Syntonic said that "things are going well vis-à-vis our Sponsored Data activities. Stay-tuned for our upcoming (revolutionary) product release," but Syntonic didn't provide any more details.
Shortly after the announcement of AT&T's Sponsored Data program, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the commission would observe AT&T's new toll-free data plans. "My attitude is: Let's take a look at what this is, let's take a look at how it operates," Wheeler said in January, according to The Verge.
AT&T shortly thereafter argued that its Sponsored Data toll-free data plans do not violate the FCC's net neutrality rules. "AT&T's sponsored data service is aimed solely at benefiting our customers," Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, said in a statement in January. "It allows any company who wishes to pay our customer's costs for accessing that company's content to do so. This is purely voluntary and non-exclusive. It is an offering by that company, not by AT&T. We simply enable it. The bottom line is that this can save money for our customers. We see no reason why this is not a good thing."
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