SportsLine.com to Carry Video Ads

SportsLine.com and Viewpoint Corporation team to pre-cache and display video ads on the publishers’ Web sites.

Called AirTime, the technology enables deployment of video ads within SportsLine.com’s existing inventory of formats, including banners, skyscrapers, pop-ups or any other online units.

SportsLine.com is publisher of CBS SportsLine.com and the official Web sites of the NFL, the PGA TOUR and the NCAA. Viewpoint said it is in talks with several other video-hungry publishers and expects to announce new deals in coming weeks.

Viewpoint’s solution eliminates the need for a publisher to implement a unique format to carry video ads. This is a departure from another notable pre-cached video ad offering; namely that of Unicast, whose recently-launched Video Commercial only supports the company’s trademarked Superstitial format.

“Unicast forces you into a highly specific way of deploying video, one that is going to be very inappropriate to a lot of Web users,” said Viewpoint Chairman Bob Rice.

Sportsline’s approach differs considerably from that of fellow sports site ESPN.com, which has made waves with its ESPN Motion video ad and content format. ESPN Motion requires viewers to download a specific application to view the video content. Advertisements then run in a prominent box on the front page of the site, preceding content.

“AirTime goes much farther than similar Web publishing applications,” said Viewpoint CEO Jay Amato, “because advertisers can place any video ad in any publisher’s standard ad unit.”

Viewpoint said its media player, which is needed to see the ads, is installed on 64 percent of U.S. computers. Consumers who don’t have the player installed will see a non-video ad selected by SportsLine.com.

SportsLine.com and Viewpoint may have to contend with critics who argue in-banner streaming will be distracting and unpopular with users.

“It makes sense for large advertisers to run video ads online,” said Nate Elliott, an associate analyst with Jupiter Research. “It’s an easy way for those advertisers to get comfortable with Internet advertising. But they should be running in-stream ads, where users are already watching video and are likely to be more impacted by the ads. Running TV commercials inside banners is more likely to annoy users than anything.”

Elliott threw his support behind Unicast’s Video Commercial, saying the unit “can make a nice complement to in-stream video ads, but I wouldn’t encourage marketers to run video inside banners.”

Viewpoint shrugged off the criticism, saying in order for interactive marketers to find the best approach to video, they must have a large palette to work with.

“Nobody knows what the right answer for video is. There’s going to be a lot of experimentation. You have to have a flexible system,” said Viewpoint’s Rice. “This is why we provided the flexibility for publishers and advertisers.”

While the creative debate rages over how best to use video, Viewpoint may face a different sort of conflict with Unicast — a legal one. Unicast has based its products on pre-caching and has been very vocal about holding a patent on the technology. Historically, the company has been all-too-willing to litigate in defense of its intellectual property.

But Viewpoint dismissed any claims Unicast might hold on its pre-caching technology.

“For the record, we’ve been preloading and pre-caching since before Unicast existed,” said Viewpoint Chairman Bob Rice. “We have a proprietary cache, our own completely independent system.”

Unicast was not immediately reachable for comment on the patent issue.

AirTime was launched on the sports site to coincide with the beginning of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship that begins in March 2004. The company has provided technology to SportsLine.com’s editorial content in the past, but today’s announcement marks the first time the two companies have partnered on advertising content.

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