BT to offer free directory enquiries with ads

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BT is to launch an advertising-funded directory enquiries service next year, a move it expects will prove popular in the UK after rapid take-up of the model in the US.

The UK directory enquiries market is fragmented with some 400 providers competing for customers who need help finding phone numbers or local services. The market is dominated by The Number, the company behind the 118 118 service, which has built a market share of over 50 per cent through a long-running advertising campaign, with BT and Yell Group also major players.

Nigel Stagg, managing director of BT Enterprises, said that with online advertising growing quickly and mobile advertising starting to pick up, BT is "very interested" in the potential of ad-funded directory enquiries. He noted that the ad-funded model has been making ground in the US.

"Directory assistance is going free. If the timing is right, take-up will be very quick," Mr Stagg said. However he said that the company has to make sure that the advertising is not intrusive and is relevant to the consumer. "We can't make a pig's ear of it," he said.

The Number offers an ad-funded directory enquiries service, but take-up has been limited, partly because it has not marketed the product. However a spokesman said that advertisers are interested in the directory enquiries market, and there is some fledgling activity around the 118 118 number, such as sending texts to people calling in with local business information.

Yell, which compiles the Yellow Pages, has no plans to launch ad-funded directory assistance services, despite its close relationship with local business across the country.

BT and The Number offer basic directory enquiries services which are cheaper than the premium services which also offer local information such as train times and cinema listings.

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