Real Media Bunny-Hops to Playboy.com

Real Media Tuesday vowed to lend its online advertising prowess to one of the top online brands for men, Playboy.com.

Financial details of the deal were not made public. On U.S. soil, Real Media will supplement Playboy.com’s internal sales force within certain markets and advertising categories, and will be the exclusive international representative for the racy online subsidiary of Hugh Hefner’s dynasty.

Tuesday’s deal is a natural extension of a prior agreement for the companies, as Playboy.com is already working with Real Media’s Open AdStream to serve its ads. The deal makes sense for New York City-based Real Media because many advertisers have come to depend on Playboy’s brand and readership, particularly to deliver ads for consumer electronics, technology, liquor/beer, entertainment, grooming, and dozens of other products and services targeted to young, affluent males. The site’s traffic figures are consistently at the top in terms of reaching the key demographic.

Playboy.com’s Vice President of Advertising Sales Jeff Kimmel said his company would retain its current sales staff, but expects Real Media to leverage its advertiser and agency relationships to bolster the growth of Playboy.com’s online brand.

Real Media may have hit bottom in late December when it restructured, yanked its proposed initial public offering and saw then-Chief Executive Officer Chris Neimith depart to pursue other interests. To help stay afloat, the company said then that it would procure an undisclosed amount of financing from major shareholder Swiss print advertising firm PublicGroupe and The Destination Group.

Indeed, like many of its ilk across the bleak online advertising landscape, Real Media could use the nod from such a major brand as Playboy.com. The company’s founder and co-chairman, David Morgan, recently said he plans to leave the ad network at the end of the month, with the goal of starting a new online advertising company. Otherwise, Real Media has been quiet as of late, having rolled out its Open Advertiser product in Europe in May and added rich media capabilities in February.

The same measure of subtlety could hardly be said for its new advertising partner; in early May, Playboy.com launched an international sports betting site, PlayboySportsBook.com, where visitors can wager on games from around the world. In addition to betting on sports, people can bet on a hot topic — namely, which woman they think will be crowned “Playmate of the Year.”

The company said Playboy’s “Miss May 1998” will act as the site’s virtual hostess and appear in video segments to announce top sports events. A search on the new gambling site did reveal this hostess, who goes by the moniker of “Betting Bunny Diana.” Clicking on her image enables users to open an account.

Putting a gambling site under its belt may be a good strategy for Playboy.com, which despite its rich historical branding history must contend with scads of adult entertainment sites that offer much more graphic… well, entertainment. And while online gambling is legal pretty much everywhere else besides the U.S., it is making progress in Nevada, where lawmakers Monday voted to permit Internet gambling by casinos there, becoming the first state to do so. Legislators approved the law despite the U.S. Justice Department’s protests that online gambling is a crime.

Whatever government officials decide, there is a considerable interest in the activity; some experts estimate that revenue from Internet gambling — largely conducted by offshore companies because of the U.S. ban — reached $1.5 billion last year and could reach $6 billion by 2003.

Obviously Playboy.com could be on to something if it can effectively monetize its site.

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