Marketers, Ad Vendors Ready for Browser Changes

Microsoft has issued an update to its Internet Explorer browser that could alter how rich media content on a Web page is displayed, in some cases requiring users to click on an ad or video before it begins to play.

The move was the result of a prolonged patent suit with Eolas, an obscure software company that won a wide-reaching patent dealing with the way plug-in applications are called in a browser. The Eolas suit has been appealed, overturned and over-overturned since it began in 1999 and was decided in Eolas’ favor in August 2003.

The change is potentially disruptive to Internet users, especially when interactive Flash ads or site elements are involved. However, since the possibility that Microsoft would be making such changes to IE has been on the table for some time, many developers and vendors have already made adjustments to their workflow or their applications so the changes won’t be noticed by end users.

Rich media ad vendors DoubleClick, Eyeblaster, EyeWonder, Klipmart and PointRoll either were not affected due to the way they implement their ads, or have adjusted their practices to prevent the change from affecting end users. Other ad vendors couldn’t be reached by press time, but all are expected to make the necessary changes to their platforms.

These changes are more likely to affect marketers who have created Flash-based applications or Web sites, or publishers who implemented a custom ad-serving system or use one from a smaller vendor.

“When we first heard about the settlement, we made the necessary changes to the way we implement code,” Ryan O’Hearn, associate director of technology at Digitas’ Modem Media, told ClickZ News. “We knew about it, but it’s the people who might not be up to speed who will be more affected; the ones who are using Macromedia and Adobe products on their own. There will be a few people not making the necessary adjustments.”

The updating process will be simpler for developers who use a library model, where the same code is re-used when possible. Those developers, such as Modem, will need to make changes to a single file or a few files on a site. Other developers must update the code for each file on the page, an inconvenient, but not difficult task, according to Jeff Froom, senior creative technologist at Chicago-based creative shop 15 letters.

“It may take months for the IE patch and JavaScript antidote to trickle through the development community, but long-term I don’t think it will be a big issue,” Froom told ClickZ News. “Short-term, however, expect to hear gripes from developers, advertisers and users alike.”

In the updated version of IE, when a Web page uses an APPLET, EMBED, or OBJECT tag to load an ActiveX control, the control is loaded but interactivity is blocked until the user clicks on it. IE will not prompt the user before loading each unit, but will load everything on the page, but block interactivity with the affected rich media units until the user clicks on them. For many user scenarios, such as for most Flash ads where the user sees the content but does not interact with it, the user will be unaffected.

Microsoft alerted developers in December that it would be issuing the IE update, which was issued by Microsoft last week. So far, the update only affects users of IE6 on Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 who choose to download and install the update, but future versions of IE, including ones that will be bundled in future operating systems, will have the patch built in.

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