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Microsoft to give free TV ad to top-voted Windows Phone 8 app

App dev deathmatch offers thousands in prizes

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Microsoft wants to convince more developers to build apps for its Windows Phone 8 smartphone platform, and to do so, it has taken its cue from none other than Research in Motion.

RIM's market share has suffered during the wait for it to launch its new BlackBerry 10 platform, but it has managed to stir up a fair number of developers nonetheless, through a variety of promotions and contests.

Not to be outdone, Redmond has followed suit with a developer contest of its own, with the top winner to receive "featured placement" in a forthcoming Windows Phone ad that will run during prime-time TV in the US.

Dubbed Windows Phone Next App Star, the goal of the contest is "to showcase Windows Phone 8 as a great platform for developing cool apps," according to its official rules.

The idea is not only to woo more developers over to the Windows Phone platform, but also to increase the visibility of the high-quality apps that are already on sale in the Windows Phone Store.

Entering the contest is easy. Developers need but opt in, and their entire application catalogs will automatically be entered into the competition. Any new apps they write and upload to the Windows Store before the contest's cutoff date will be considered as well.

Microsoft will judge all entries based on their user ratings in the Windows Phone Store, plus a rather arbitrary-sounding metric it's calling "app quality", which includes such criteria as how well the app implements new Windows Phone 8 features such as Live Tiles.

All of the entries – and Microsoft says there are currently more than 120,000 apps in the Windows Phone Store – will be winnowed down to a field of 64 top apps, after which they will be subjected to public voting in head-to-head, bracket-style competition, from which a single grand-prize winner will emerge.

According to an official blog post announcing the contest, "There will be thousands of dollars in prizes for the developers of the 64 apps that get selected, including a Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone and a one-year free Dev Center subscription."

It's the grand prize that will likely be of interest to most developers, however. According to Adweek, the average price of a single primetime TV spot currently runs just under $110,000, although placement during certain top-rated shows and sporting events costs much more.

Most app developers would be hard-pressed to raise such sums, but they're nothing to Microsoft, which is believed to have set aside a marketing budget in excess of $1bn to promote its Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Surface brands.

It's little wonder, either, given what's at stake. Windows Phone may be the third most popular smartphone platform today, but its sales figures are paltry compared to those of iOS and Android, and it faces stiff competition in the coming year from upstarts like Tizen, Firefox OS, and Ubuntu, to say nothing of BlackBerry 10.

A thriving app ecosystem is considered vital to the success of any smartphone platform, which explains why Microsoft is so determined to let customers know that the Windows Phone Store is bursting at the seams with apps – even if that might not be strictly true.

The Windows Phone Next App Star contest is now open for entries from contestants worldwide, and apps must be live in the Windows Phone Store by March 5, 2013 to be considered. The public voting period will end on April 8, after which the final winners will be announced. ®

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