Online ad sales hit new high

Net advertising sales grew to $2.2 billion for the fourth quarter of 2003, breaking the previous record reached during the height of the dot-com boom.

Online advertising sales hit a new high last quarter, in what could be further evidence that advertisers are turning their attention back to the Web.

Online ad revenue hit $2.2 billion for the fourth quarter of 2003 and $7.2 billion for the year, according to data released Thursday by industry group Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and independent audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. That's a 38 percent gain from the fourth quarter of 2002 and a 20 percent increase for the year.

The quarterly gain broke the previous record of $2.12 billion reached in the fourth quarter of 2000 at the height of the dot-com boom, according to the IAB.

"Our medium is such that we should expect this positive performance," IAB President Greg Stuart said in a statement. "Based on sound business principles, the industry has grown up and become a great competitive advantage for those marketers who have been paying attention."

The study marks the fifth consecutive quarter of gains for the online advertising sector, according to the IAB. Much of this growth has come from commercial search, which has fueled the strength of Internet giants such as Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN, while turning Google into a cash cow. Google and Yahoo's Overture Services subsidiary are industry leaders in selling advertising placement on Web search results pages.

Other forms of search engine advertising, such as targeted results and selling keywords, also have attracted advertisers.

A representative from the IAB said the group will release more specific data in April that will show search as a major growth area.

CNET Networks, publisher of, is a member of the IAB.

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