Unicast to Nix All But “Standard” Units

Rich media ad firm Unicast is announcing the results of its months-long, behind-the-scenes negotiations with online publishers, agencies and advertisers to begin using only certain sizes of its formats — paving the way, it says, for standardization in animated and interactive advertising.

The New York-based firm has been working with Web sites and large online ad buyers to adopt certain conventions of design for creatives using its technology. For instance, Unicast said it and its partners have decided that the Superstitial between-page interstitial format will be limited to a 30-second, 300k, 550 x 480 pixel unit.

For rich media banner, skyscraper and rectangle units — which Unicast sells under the Enliven brand — the company said it expects partners to enforce a 30k size for the initial ad, with an additional 100k being loaded if users mouse over the creative. Click-to-HTML window with ad content is limited to 300k. The formats include a 468 x 60 banner, a 250 x 250 or 300 x 250 pixel box, and a 120 x 600 or 160 x 600 skyscraper.

For “takeover” ads, which Unicast sells in cooperation with ad technology firm Ad4Ever, file sizes must be capped at 100k. The ads’ introductory, takeover “teaser” must be limited to 10 seconds and a size of 700 x 400 pixels, while a “reminder” unit must be limited to 30 seconds of animation and 150 x 150 pixels.

All the units must include a button allowing users to close the ad, and for the Enliven formats, must have user-initiated audio only.

Such an effort is aimed at ensuring that agencies and advertisers can create one ad and run it anywhere — instead of having to endure the myriad tweaks, changes and negotiations commonly undertaken to ensure compatibility with a number of sites.

As a result, the standards seek to reduce the time associated with producing online campaigns — potentially making it cheaper.

“What this allows [agencies] to do is get closer and in line with what is the traditional advertising allocation of budgets — a small percentage of the overall budget fees go to production, and the balance goes to media,” said Allie Savarino, senior vice president of global marketing at Unicast. “But in today’s online environment, that number is closer to 50-50.”

“What we’re doing is allowing the money that’s being spent to be focused on media … not production.”

The company said it already has a number of major sites willing to accept creative only in the specified formats, including Yahoo , Sportsline , iVillage and ESPN — who are also willing to turn away creative that doesn’t meet the format.

“Being a media organization that makes its bread and butter from ad revenue, it’s hard to walk that fine line between user experience and advertising,” said Bruce Jaret, vice president of sales, marketing services and operations at Sportsline. “We support Unicast and will work with them on standardization of that kind of stuff, and believe in it wholeheartedly.”

Savarino added that Unicast has plans to contact most of the roughly 450 agencies and advertisers working with the format.

“All of the partners will sell against these specs,” she said. “Anything that comes in under these standards will get kicked back. The point here is that we’re prepared to potentially have to turn away and to cut some business, but the establishment of and discipline to [adhering to] standards is what will open up this market.”

But Jaret added that the process toward standards could still be a long time coming. While Sportsline has for some time enforced its own standards — which Jaret said are in part more strict than Unicast’s — other sites might not be as willing to potentially give up some income or place restrictions on campaigns.

“We’ll support Unicast, but I can’t speak for the bazillions of sites out here that might not be as Unicast-friendly as a Sportsline or an ESPN,” he added.

The move expands on earlier efforts by — and in some cases, would seem to usurp the authority of — the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which a year ago released standards on rich media ad use. In many instances, the Unicast standards allow for a higher data load and different sizes than the guidelines that had been okayed by the New York-based IAB’s Rich Media Taskforce, which includes representation from Yahoo and other major publishers.

While spokespeople at the IAB said the trade association has been in contact with Unicast regarding the guidelines, they said that no decision had been made on the discrepancies between the two sets of standards.

But Jaret added that the participation of a large industry body would seem a requisite for progress to be made on the matter.

“It’s a very difficult thing, and I think that’s why the IAB should be more heavily involved that they might normally be with these Unicast standards — to get the whole industry to buy in with its organization,” he said. “It might have a little more weight than one particular vendor doing it on their own.”

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