The application, called instantET, was made available as a free download on the Internet on Wednesday. The viewer plays content that has been downloaded to the user's hard drive, creating a TV-like advertising window while avoiding some of the costs and performance glitches of real-time Internet streaming.
"People are basically allowing you to stream an advertisement because this is a promo for the show," said Julian Aldridge, head of client partnerships at ad firm Agency.com, which was the project's architect.
InstantET updates the Web marketing trick of creating a game or gizmo around a specific brand, hoping the game and brand will catch on with Web surfers. It also plays on a trend during the dot-com Golden Age when highfliers like PointCast touted "push" technology, or applications that fed consumers relevant data to the PC without the aid of a Web browser. Though many such technologies are long gone, the idea is experiencing a revival.
Many entertainment companies and TV programmers are already using video to promote shows or movies online. Extra!, for example, is feeding interest for nighttime television with video clips of top stories on reality TV programs "The Bachelorette" and "American Idol." Others have included, Comedy Central or reality show "Big Brother."
In 2003, the number of unique entertainment-related ad campaigns online was up to about 1.8 million, 300,000 more from the year before, according to research firm GartnerG2. Streaming video played a large part of entertainment companies' online campaigns, because they rely on the rich media experience to promote film and broadcast. Movie studios have embraced streaming video clips and interactive gaming ads online to promote blockbuster films such as "Spiderman" and "Lord of the Rings."
"Targeting people in a certain time frame, when they're thinking, 'What am I going to do tonight or over the weekend,' is" part of the appeal to advertisers, said ad analyst Jim Nail, of Forrester Research. "Entertainment is one of the real up and coming sides of online advertising," he said.
Still, many other entertainment producers shy away from putting video online because of the high cost of delivering streams to viewers. As the number of people watching video clips online increases, the costs for bandwidth go up. In addition, TV networks such as CBS or NBC, which often don't own the rights to air popular programs on the Internet, must renegotiate contracts with program producers in order to put them online.
But entertainment providers such as ETOnline see an economic advantage in the one-to-one advertising.
Aldridge estimated that if ETOnline increased its nightly TV audience by a half of a percentage point for two months of the year with the use of the instantET application, its television ad rates would increase enough to pay for the development costs of the project, which include streaming the video to desktops.
Aldridge said it's an effectiveof online advertising because people are continuously engaged with the content, having asked to download and play it. So far, about 75 percent of the people who click on the offer are downloading and using the viewer, he said.