Revelations that controversial file-sharing software developer BitTorrent will begin to host ads from Ask Jeeves alongside its upcoming search engine have drawn mixed results from SEMs.
BitTorrent announced Monday that it is planning to launch a search engine to index the thousands of movies, music, video games and other files currently shared using the company's peer-to-peer software. Alongside search results, the company will show keyword-targeted text ads from Ask Jeeves.
"BitTorrent is positioned to be the next embodiment of the peer-to-peer debate. First it was Napster, then Kazaa, and now BitTorrent," said David Berkowitz, director of marketing with search marketing firm icrossing. "This is where brand managers are going to start taking the search engines to task, asking them for options to limit where their ad appears."
The software allows users to find and download files hosted on the hard drives of other users, or dedicated hosts. Sites that track and index copyrighted BitTorrent files have been under attack by lawsuits filed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
While some marketers may be concerned to have their brands associated with such controversy, others see the addition of BitTorrent's search engine to the Ask Jeeves ad network as a positive development.
"In the short term, we're looking at this as an increase in distribution," said Peter Hershberg, managing partner of Reprise Media. Hershberg and several other members of the Reprise team are Ask Jeeves alumni. "Given the nature of BitTorrent's business, we'll be keeping an eye on this, as I'm sure everyone else will be as well."
Berkowitz agreed that the BitTorrent site itself can provide a good opportunity for advertisers to extend their reach, but stressed that search engines like Ask Jeeves need to provide wary advertisers with the option to keep their ads from appearing on such sites if they are concerned about the implications for their brands.
"BitTorrent is part of the Ask Jeeves syndication network -- we provide them with Web search and sponsored links. At this time, we don't see this as having implications for our advertisers, nor do we have any special arrangements in place with regard to our relationship with BitTorrent," said an Ask Jeeves spokesperson.
BitTorrent does not promote the use of its software for illegal downloading. It positions itself as an enabler of self-publishing that helps content creators reach a mass audience through low-cost digital distribution.
"BitTorrent enjoys tremendous street credibility because it empowers the individual to express himself on the Web in ways that were too costly before," said Ashwin Navin, co-founder and chief operating officer of BitTorrent. "Both publishers and progressive marketers are thrilled to be associated with our brand."
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Kevin Newcomb joined ClickZ in August 2004, covering search marketing and other online marketing topics. He has been reporting on web-based businesses since 2000.
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