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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK


Web ads add video

Streaming banners: the Peugeot ad is one of the first

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

Wide-screen TV may have nothing on new-style banner ads being stretched across Websites by a UK company.

Web Marketing Ltd has introduced video banner ads that may delight advertisers, disappointed by declining click-through rates, and distract and likely irritate consumers confronted with sound and moving pictures when they visit pages carrying the ads.

Web Marketing says its technology amounts to less than a 10k download, so pages still appear quickly, and insists people like to watch entertaining ads.

Coming to a page near you

The industry seems impressed. Web Marketing has just finished a three-month exclusive deal with Lycos in Europe to serve the ads and has now been able to get signed commitments to serve sites totalling 500m page impressions a month in the UK, 660m in Europe as a whole and the possibility of 2.7bn in the US.

Web Marketing's technology involves a small "sniffpush" program detecting whether you are using streaming media software and, if so, what type, before you hit the page with the video ad.

If no software is available, an ordinary gif file banner ad is shown. Otherwise, video is played fitting whichever version of RealNetworks streaming software the visitor is using.

From Flash to flashy film

Web Marketing's managing director Marc Lewis says the company will talk to Microsoft about future use of its Media Player software but has ditched plans to use Apple's Quicktime 4 because "it crashes browsers".

He also promises greater interactivity such as clicking on one of the cars in a race being shown for details on the specific model.

Banner ads have moved on from static images to animated ones, using tools such as Macromedia's Flash, and then to Rich Media, such as Enliven's technology. Video is the next step, according to Mr Lewis.

"Rich media banner ads were proving problematic with long downloading times that frustrated users. Enliven technology is brilliant but you need the plug-ins. Flash won't be dead because it's supported by RealNetworks, but there's nothing better than film."

Banners still the main medium

The average number of people clicking through the ads to go the company's Website has been declining from 3% to less than 1%.

Mr Lewis says video has raised click-throughs by 400% to 1,000% and planned features such as interactive voice assistance for customers will add further value. "Our goal is for video banners to become the norm the same way that gifs did."

The Internet Advertising Bureau reported that banner ads were the main form of advertising in 1998, at 56%, followed by sponsorships, at 30%.

New forms for New Media

But research by Jupiter Communications suggests advertisers are also starting to look at Emerging Ad Platforms (EAPs) such as broadband Internet, mobile devices, set-top boxes and WebTV.

Paul Ayres, general manager of RealNetworks in Europe, believes broadband for the masses is still some way off:

"We are dealing in the reality of today not the broadband of 10 years' time. By 2003 we should be up to dual-ISDN speeds [128Kbps], we are developing technology for narrowband, midband and looking ahead to broadband."

Web Marketing Ltd began in September 1998 by sub-letting Real Video streams to companies, before developing its own technologies. It has two subsidiaries - Takes Two, which serves video banner ads, and B4 the net, which serves video to client Websites.

And it could offer relief to users who tire of being blasted by sound and video. "If they want a Stop button on the ad, we can design that as well," says Marc Lewis.

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