Skype Opens Platform to Ads as IPO Looms

As an IPO looms, Skype is looking for new revenue streams that will help continue its growth and improve its financial prospects. Monday, it unveiled the next big revenue generator: ads on its Skype Windows (s msft) desktop client.

Skype said in a blog post Monday it will begin rolling out test ads in the U.S., U.K. and Germany this week from big brands including Groupon, Universal Pictures (s CMCSA), and Visa (s v). The ads, which will be adjusted over time, will appear in the home tab of the Skype client at the top of the application. In an attempt to preserve the user experience, the ads will be limited, so users will only see one brand a day. Skype said it won’t use pop-ups, but will try to target ads to users to make them relevant using non-personally identifiable demographic data. Users can opt-out of those targeted ads if they choose. Skype said it has already tested some ads with Rdio.

The move to advertising has been tossed around for a long time and actually seems a bit overdue. Skype said it is almost wholly reliant on SkypeOut revenue, which made up 86 percent of its $860 million in revenue last year, according to its updated S-1 filing. Skype knows it needs to diversify its revenue if it wants to grow and have the money to invest in new features, and it needs the money to keep Skype-to-Skype calls free. By tapping advertising as a new revenue stream, it can ease its over-reliance on SkypeOut, which the company identified as a risk factor.

Skype recently announced it has hit 29 million concurrent users, and said in its S-1 that its overall user base is up to 663 million. It has a lot of people communicating, increasingly through video, which makes up 42 percent of calls. It’s an expensive setup, but it’s also a great opportunity for advertising. Fortune last year reported that Skype could rake in $200 million from advertising, especially for video chats, which could host ads alongside the chat. Overall, Skype said its users made 207 billion minutes of Skype-to-Skype calls last year. All that engagement can be monetized well if done with some restraint.

That seems to be Skype’s main concern with advertising. The company said it is moving slowly because it believes the user experience is paramount. And it’s still not clear to Skype how big an opportunity it has on its hands. Here’s the important language from the S-1:

…it is still uncertain what level of revenues can be generated through advertising. Furthermore, we may face difficulty in successfully implementing advertising on certain platforms, such as mobile devices. Finally, our users may respond negatively to receiving advertisements through their Skype software client, which could negatively and materially affect user engagement, our Skype brand and our results of operations.

Skype said in addition to advertising, it will ramp up its enterprise efforts and is also looking at gaming and virtual goods as other potential revenue sources. The advertising effort is Windows-only for now, but if all goes well and Skype avoids an uproar, expect it to appear on Mac (s aapl) and mobile platform as well.

For all its success, Skype is still in need of some revenue diversification. It’s getting there with these ads, which should slowly beef up revenues. A rumored deal with Facebook to provide video chat could also provide some oomph with a boost of new users. Look for more announcements as the Skype money-making machine starts to crank into high gear.

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