CBS MarketWatch.com Hops On Revenue-Hunting Bandwagon

CBS MarketWatch.com this week rolled out new pricing and new ad formats amid a site redesign — a move that it says will increase its appeal to advertisers, but which could wind up proving a distraction from the site’s content.

“CBS MarketWatch.com has always been a powerhouse content provider,” said MarketWatch.com Chief Executive and Chairman Larry Kramer. “But our new site will let us offer more content and tools than ever — to our readers, to advertisers, as well as to our licensing and distribution partners.”

In addition to a rich media “window” — similar to the Internet Advertising Bureau’s proposed 336×280 “large rectangle,” and the formats currently in use by other publishers like CNET Networks, Disney and internet.com — the company is selling space on its Web page backgrounds, also known as “wallpaper.”

The move is unusual, and a gutsy one for the San Francisco-based property — since most publishers and designers typically feel that background images could distract from the content.

In 1996, New York-based i-traffic (now owed by interactive shop Agency.com) contracted with portals Yahoo and Excite to use special wallpaper in a promotion for its client Disney’s release of “101 Dalmatians.” Those efforts plastered the sites’ Web pages with Dalmatian-like spots.

But the effort seems to be attracting advertisers. MarketWatch.com announced that Anheuser Busch has signed on to sponsor the CBS MarketWatch.com home page through January, 2002. Anheuser Busch will promote its Budweiser and O’Doul’s brands using the site.

In addition to Budweiser logos in the backgrounds of some Web pages, Anheuser Busch purchased Friday afternoon Web space — in an effort to prime its primarily male demographic for “happy hour.”

That particular announcement is the first time the site has begun selling advertising based on time-of-day. The arrangement, MarketWatch said, meets the needs of packaged goods advertisers.

Terms of the ad deal were not made public.

The news comes as publishers — both portal plays like Yahoo, Excite@Home and Terra Lycos, and niche sites like CBS MarketWatch.com — are struggling to make the most of waning ad spending. Last week, Yahoo gave its first earnings warning based on expected shortcomings in ad revenue, while Merrill Lynch analysts Wednesday reiterated their forecasted 25 percent drop in Web ad spending in 2001.

To cope, Web publishers have been rolling out larger ad sizes that often incorporate rich media — which could appeal to advertisers seeking larger creative spaces than can be provided in a 468×80 banner ad. Just weeks ago, the New York-based IAB, an industry-sponsored association, introduced a number of new voluntary guidelines designed to boost traditional companies’ interests in online advertising. The ads are larger and proportionate (which encourages repurposing of offline and online creative into new inventory), and one unit is even specifically for pop-up ads.

However, that comes at the price of ceding increasing amounts of screen real estate to advertisers. And with MarketWatch’s introduction of “wallpaper” ads, which effectively advertise in all of the blank space on a Web page, the effort has reached a new level.

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