NetZero to Launch Mobile Ad Platform

Internet service provider NetZero is striking into new territory, announcing plans to roll out a wireless advertising system that will incorporate location targeting and rich media.

The system, which the Westlake Village, Calif.-based ISP is calling “HardCell,” is based on a mobile platform designed by telecom technology giant QUALCOMM, and will enable marketers to send targeted advertisements via programs on mobile devices — similar to the way Conducent, Radiate and EverAd imbed ads in PC applications.

HardCell is based on QUALCOMM’s Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless platform, or BREW, which supports several mobile interfaces, including QUALCOMM’s Code Division Multiple Access, or CDMA — a major domestic standard for current and “third generation” high-speed wireless communications.

Using the platform, NetZero said its HardCell system would be able to target and deliver ads into applications running on BREW-enabled CDMA mobile devices, enabling application publishers to start collect ad revenues.

Most interesting, however, is that the platform’s specifications theoretically enable advertisers to design and distribute rich media ads — though what a user actually would see is based on the capabilities of their wireless device. The ads also can be targeted by geography — down to city or regional area, NetZero said.

As the thinking goes, consumers gain by receiving relevant advertising with various calls to action, including clicking on the ad to open the advertiser’s mobile Web site, initiating a call, or opting in to receive information via email or SMS text messaging.

NetZero didn’t disclose its plan for how the inventory was to be sold, or when it actually plans to roll out the service, though the company’s executives said they plan to target mobile ads using the same sort of targeting technology it uses in its ad-sponsored free ISP service.

Aside from that, however, there seems to be little explanation of why NetZero is embarking on an undertaking so different from its existing capabilities as a free and subscription-based ISP.

And while the company didn’t disclose the cost, the venture certainly appears risky. Static wireless advertising (much less full-blown, location-based, rich media ads) is still very much a medium still in its developmental years, and lags well behind online advertising, which has been around for more than five years, and is still facing numerous problems.

Nevertheless, NetZero’s chairman and chief executive Mark Goldston categorized the effort as in keeping with the company’s core vision of providing Internet marketing services, and extends it to what he said is a promising new area.

“Since NetZero was founded, it has developed innovative technologies that have helped marketers and advertisers more effectively reach online consumers,” Goldston said. “The development of HardCell marks the first time the company will have the opportunity to extend its targeting technology to mobile devices, which we believe is a key growth market.”

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