ThirdScreen Media Launches Wireless Ad Network

Massachusetts-based startup ThirdScreen Media launched Monday with the debut of its wireless ad-serving technology, its wireless media planning tool, and its mobile marketing ad network.

The firm, which has been quietly operating since 2001, is a unit of holding company W2 Group, which was recently founded by former Interpublic chairman Lawrence Weber. Other W2 Group companies include public relations firms Racepoint Group and Digital Influence Group.

Though mobile marketing in the U.S. has been “emerging” for several years, recent improvements in technology, growing consumer adoption of data services such as SMS (define), and increased advertiser interest have given industry players reason for renewed hope.

“Our primary goal is to come at mobile from the perspective of the advertiser,” said Tom Burgess, CEO and cofounder of ThirdScreen Media. “Some others come from the technology or the carrier perspective. We go to the advertisers, and we say, ‘Who do you want to reach? How do you want to reach them? What time of day?’ etc.”

Burgess and his team have some experience with emerging media. Burgess and cofounder Michael Weaver are veterans of pioneering rich media player Bluestreak. Heidi Lehmann, ThirdScreen’s business development executive VP, served stints at 3D-imaging firm Kaon Interactive and Emerging Interest.

Unlike most U.S.-based mobile ad companies, which focus on SMS, ThirdScreen Media is pursuing a display advertising model. Its proprietary ad-serving and tracking technology, M-Spot, delivers ads to WAP (define) sites and to downloadable applications, including those in the J2ME (define) and BREW (define) formats.

“We are very much focused on making sure the advertiser is brought to the consumer in a more informational and educational manner as opposed to just spamming people,” said Burgess.

ThirdScreen does use SMS technology, but only to power the post-click interactions it facilitates between marketers and its ads’ viewers. ThirdScreen calls such an interaction an “m-opt-in” — the mobile equivalent of an email opt-in.

“We use text messaging as the interactive layer,” said Burgess. “When people see sponsorships, they can interact with them and can open up a dialogue with the marketer.”

The company has put together a network of publishers, including Nascar.com, MSN, Atlas Mobile, Scoreline.TV, and Wirejack, where it can serve ads on behalf of marketers. Currently, that network — which consists of WAP sites and downloadable applications — serves 15 million impressions per month in the U.S. and 50 million per month worldwide. The company says its ThirdScreen Mobile Media Network is the largest worldwide network of mobile advertising inventory.

ThirdScreen also debuted on Monday the ThirdScreen Planner, a media planning tool it compares to Nielsen//NetRatings’ @Plan. The Web-based tool is aimed at helping marketers find which inventory fits their target market.

“We have been overwhelmed recently, especially in the last two quarters,” said Burgess. “Budgets are really cracking open and agencies are really spending on mobile.”

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