F# wants to turn banner ads into web radio stations

New York-based ad tech startup F# wants you to stop hating banner ads — and it has a pretty clever idea to make those despised ad units more interesting: The company, whose name is pronounced like the musical note F-sharp, wants brands to turn their banners into web radio stations and on-demand music players. Imagine pre-listening an album when you browse a music or lifestyle site, or tuning into a game day mix while reading up on the next Super Bowl.

F#’s AdPlayer, which launches Wednesday, looks like a regular ad unit, but it features a play button, allowing users to launch a music stream while they’re reading a story on a website or browse through their Facebook (S FB) timeline.

The player can even be opened as a separate popup to allow for uninterrupted listening while a user navigates away from the original site. Yup, you heard that right. People may actually chose to interact with the ad longer than they remain on a site, which is pretty much the exact opposite to what everyone does with banner ads today.

Of course, advertisers have used music in ads for decades, and it’s easy to find Flash banner ads that feature some kind of soundtrack. But getting licenses for this kind of advertising can be expensive, especially for smaller brands who are looking for tracks from recognizable pop stars.

That’s why F# offers the option to instead use a Pandora-like (S P) radio station that plays songs from a variety of artists — something that doesn’t require direct licenses from rights holders. “This makes music accessible to brands that don’t have the money for exclusive partnerships,” said F# CEO Dan Merritts during an interview this week.

F# was founded 2012, and has thus far concentrated on integrating music into custom ad campaigns as well as branded Spotify apps. Some of the brands that have used F# include Adidas, Comcast and Universal Studios. F# employs 50 people, with offices in New York, Sidney and London, and hasn’t taken on any institutional funding.