Spedia Nabs About.com Deal

About.com this week announced an ad-sponsored, pay-for-surfing loyalty program.

Sound familiar? That’s because the content portal signed deal to do nearly the same thing with pay-for-surf firm ClickRebates last week.

Now, it’s tapped another startup, Oakland, Calif.-based Spedia, to provide its surfers with an ad-sponsored surfing tool.

Spokespeople from About.com were relatively tight-lipped on reasons as to why the content portal has deals with two similar, allegedly scalable ASPs, saying only that it is to support About’s large user base of more than 20 million.

About currently links to Spedia’s service from a front-page “Make Cash” link, which brings users to a co-branded download page. ClickRebates’ system will launch on November 1.

Spedia’s contract with About will last for one year, and aims to generate one million signups, the company said.

Like ClickRebates, Spedia’s program displays banner ads while compensating users with a monthly cash payback. Spedia’s payout is on a sliding pay scale that varies monthly, but average around $0.50 per hour, the company said.

Spedia is quick to point out the differences between it and competitors — like mValue, which closed its doors earlier this month, and AllAdvantage.com, which has revamped its payment and business model several times in the face of slacking ad revenues.

The chief difference, said Spedia’s vice president of business development Bruce Stanley, is the company’s segmented business model.

In addition to selling ad space on its floating Spedia Bar, Spedia also has a CPA-based affiliate deal that rewards members with cash for registering or visiting clients’ sites. It also offers incentivized, opt-in promotional email, which the company said is received by 75 percent of its approximately two million members; and it rents out email lists.

Spedia also runs an e-commerce affiliate program with about 450 online merchants. The company rewards users for making purchases on partnered sites, while taking a percentage of sales revenue.

Stanley said the About.com deal marks the beginning of a move into B2B, which the company said is its planned sixth revenue channel.

Because of this revenue structure, the company said it feels insulated from market conditions.

“We’ve developed revenue in five areas that can provide wonderful ad revenue to a variety of companies,” Stanley said. “It also minimizes risk when any one of these areas suffers a downturn in ad revenue.”

That’s one of the reasons why, in this current slow state of online ad spending, Spedia says it’s turning a profit.

Spedia also points to its anti-hacking systems as a key differentiator. AllAdvantage.com and similar firms have admitted difficulties with spurious users or automated surfing, and have spent a sizable amount of effort cracking down on the problem.

“Our intention is to serve the advertisers as well as the members,” said co-founder and chief technical officer Boris Panteleev. “That is why we developed lots of routines and programs — to guarantee that the inventory is going to be appropriately displayed to end users.”

And despite the well-publicized difficulties with sponsored surfing propositions and ad revenue in general, Stanley said there remains a lucrative market for services such as the company’s.

“We’re enthusiastic about our business model [and] about our ability to run a lean operation that is both scalable and expandable,” Stanley said. “We feel banner rotation is here for the long run.”

“Next year, the market will stabilize and start to move forward — with fewer players, but players better able to meet needs of the overall marketplace,” he added.

Chris Yeh, ClickRebates’ chief marketing officer said he was not aware of Spedia’s providing services to About.com, but added that his firm, which will aggregate About content in its surfing bar in addition to showing ads and inventivising browsing, does not necessarily consider Spedia a competitor.

“It’s important for anyone who wants to operate as an ASP to have the technology, flexibility, and the low cost to serve,” Yeh said. “While we incorporate some elements of pay-to-surf, our model is much bigger than that, it has a much bigger focus.”

Yeh also vigorously defended the sponsored-surfing model.

“Offline players, as they become major online advertisers — are looking for increased targeting,” Yeh said. “They want the same kind of targeting online they have in the offline world — and that’s where we come in.”

“Big players like About.com, and other major portals, recognize the need to provide this additional targeting to satisfy these major offline advertisers coming online. They’re looking for companies to deliver the relevant messages to the relevant people.”

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