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Net ads enter new dimension

EyeWonder says 50 new customers have agreed to resell its technology, which lets marketers air TV-like broadcasts in Web ads.

The bells and whistles of online advertising are about to get louder.

EyeWonder, which makes video and audio streaming ad technology, said Thursday that it has signed on 50 new customers, including The Wall Street Journal Online, Forbes.com, eUniverse, the World Wrestling Federation and the Tribune newspapers. Through the agreements, the companies can resell EyeWonder's technology to advertising customers.

The Atlanta-based company's software lets marketers air TV-like broadcasts in Web ads, including banners and pop-up windows. Through Java, a programming language for adding animation and other action to Web sites, the streaming ads run without a separate player, or plug-in. Most of the ads play sound and video automatically once a Web surfer opens the hosted page.

Advertisers increasingly see technology that infuses sound and animation into their Net pitches as a way of transcending the flat computer screen. Since the online ad market fell last year, Net publishers have been overtly accommodating these wishes with larger, flashier formats and technology that can mimic traditional mediums.

Costs go up for production and delivery of such "rich media" ads. EyeWonder ads, for example, typically sell for more than 50 percent of the average cost of a standard banner. But ad agency executives say the promotions often garner response rates that make the effort worthwhile.

John Keck, interactive media director for Foote Cone & Belding, called this the year of rich media and video streaming.

"As we respond to client demand to move the Web beyond the banner, almost everything we do know has an element of rich media and streaming technology," said Keck, whose agency plans ad campaigns for Compaq Computer and Taco Bell, among others. "We won't do a logo now that doesn't have something cool in it."

Still, Net researchers have long predicted streaming video technology and rich-media ads will comprise a mere fraction of the market. Jupiter Media Metrix estimates that streaming video ads will make up 9 percent of the market in 2005, compared with 2 percent in 2001. Rich-media ads, which include Flash animation and Dynamic HTML, will comprise about 19 percent of the online advertising by 2005.

Despite such slim estimates, EyeWonder has grown exponentially since it launched its ad technology last May. Company CEO John Vincent said that since the end of December, the number of ads it serves and the new customers on board have compounded by 50 percent a month. It has inked deals with major ad-serving companies including 24/7 Real Media and DoubleClick, Vincent said. It has also signed on many other large Web publishers, including the New York Times Digital, which used EyeWonder to air 3-minute clips for the film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings."

"We built a technology that allowed the reuse of content that had significant capital investment to create, such as General Motors' television spot," Vincent said. Nearly all of EyeWonder's customers re-purpose video from TV campaigns, Vincent said, adding that it costs less than $750 to convert a TV spot for the Web.

Demand for flashier online ads has driven many new products. In January, New York-based Unicast, the producer of a TV-like pop-up it calls the "superstitial," introduced an expanded format that caters to TV advertisers.

Shortly after, Unicast signed a deal with technology provider Klipmart to inject its ads with Java-based streaming similar to EyeWonder's technology. The company's newly launched Superstitial 300 lets marketers convert 30-second TV commercials into Web ads and gives them bigger file sizes to work with. Unicast's format is sold by more than 800 Web sites and ad networks, including DoubleClick and Terra Lycos.