Flite Builds an App Store for Advertisers

9/28/11Follow @wroush

Back in August I wrote about Flite, a San Francisco startup that transformed itself from a developer of Web widgets into a cloud-based platform for rich-media, interactive ads. Today the company is taking another step, introducing a marketplace for ad components or mini-apps where advertisers will be able to pick and choose which apps to drop into their ads.

The online ad business is moving toward interactive ads because—in theory, at least—they’re more engaging and have higher click-through and conversion rates than static ads. A theater chain, for example, could choose a movie showtimes app that lets consumers buy tickets directly through Fandango, then share their moviegoing plans via Twitter or Facebook.

Each app in Flite’s new “Flite Hub” will add a certain amount to the CPM, or cost per thousand impressions, of the ads that advertisers buy. Flite will split the revenue with the apps’ developers, according to CEO Will Price.

“The goal of it is really to create an economy around components, defined as Web services,” Price says. “We’re inviting developers to come into Flite and create components that can be consumed via APIs [application programming interfaces], and we’re allowing brands to come in and pick the Web services that map to their goals and very easily drop them into an ad unit.”

At launch, Flite Hub includes apps from six Flite partners: Aditive, ChatID, ePrize, Mashery, Mass Relevance, and Movie Connect. Dave Bailey, CEO of Aura Group, the interactive agency that developed Movie Connect, says Flite’s platform will make it much easier for advertisers to integrate the app into their display ads. “We typically saw a two week turnaround time to integrate MovieConnect into ads,” Bailey said in a statement today. “Now, Flite users can now drop MovieConnect into an ad and configure it in minutes.”

Price says that Flite expects to have 20 to 30 partners listing apps in Flite Hub by the end of the year. What’s new about the service isn’t the ability for Flite customers to build interactive ads—Flite itself has been offering its own rich-media elements since its 2009 pivot. “What is really different is that we have taken this vision, of ‘componentizing’ the back end of online advertising, and made it available to non-Flite developers,” says Price. “Many of those companies have no access to the market for display-ad dollars, and now they do.”

All of which brings Flite full circle, in a way. In its previous incarnation, as Widgetbox, the company had attempted to build a marketplace for widgets—small software components backed by Web services (e.g., an allergy meter that can find today’s local pollen count based on your zip code). “The reason we never got there was that we never had a compelling value proposition for the developers,” says Price. “At that point, Facebook and Apple came along and trumped us, giving app developers a much better platform. But there is an economy now, and that economy is display advertising. So, we had to wander in the woods for a while to get there, but we have been able to resurrect that vision.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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