By Amy Vickers

Selling online space is no longer an occupation for techies and amateur enthusiasts. News that international online saleshouse Double-Click is in talks with rival 24/7 Media serves to highlight just how serious a business it has become. The internet is set to attract around £50 million in ad revenue in the UK this year and is fast approaching a level that could be called “maturity”.

Much of the development can be attributed to entry of professional saleshouses during the past three years. The battle between firms fighting to represent websites with the largest number of page impressions has helped stimulate the market and offer advertisers an easy way into the medium.

The main benefit of the emergence of new media ad sales-houses has been the reduction of online media buying points. Three years ago anyone wanting to mount a campaign would have to deal with individual websites.

However, talk to people in traditional media about the new media sales market, and most of the time you’ll find that people are

confused. And the different technologies and sales strategies used by the saleshouses are contributing to the confusion.

There are five saleshouses currently operating in the UK: Real Media, DoubleClick, 24/7 Media, TSMSi and New Media Marketing and Sales. Of these, the latter two are home-grown, while the three global heavyweights’ focus is on expanding their reach and services.

Trying to gauge what share of the overall market each saleshouse holds is difficult, given that none are exactly comparable to each other. The largest global player is US-owned DoubleClick, which is a hybrid of saleshouse and technology company, using its DART ad-network like an airline booking system to book ads into any of its 21 global markets. DoubleClick

recently acquired ad technology firm Netgravity, but a merger with 24/7 Media would secure its number one position.

According to Andy Mitchell, managing director of DoubleClick UK, the market is moving towards consolidation. “There will be some degree of shake-up and in the longer term, the winner will be those that add value to the client base. It could end up with just two major players.”

The only global player Double- Click considers to be a major competitor is CMGI, the global new media conglomerate which is in the process of launching its ad sales-house Flycast in the UK. According to Henrik Smith, general manager at Flycast Europe, the European market can sustain another network saleshouse. “Europe has some great sites with high-quality content and traffic, we’ve been making conscious moves to this market for the past six months,” he says.

In the US, the Flycast Network reaches more than 25 million people each month, or 41% of its web audience. It focuses on buying up unsold inventory and selling this on to advertisers in bulk packages. By contrast, the other saleshouses exclusively represent websites and focus on delivering ad revenue to clients, taking a cut of all ads sold.

One further change in the way online ads are sold is the introduction of a US phenomena – selling ads by category. In America, banners are now being sold in bundles across vertical categories, such as women’s health, business and finance, automotive and entertainment. Selling in this way reflects a growing market maturity borne out of increased competition. NMMS was quick to embrace this trend when it realised it could sell ad packages across sport sites.

But despite the growing maturity of the UK’s sales networks, a key proportion of business is still being bought in from outside. 24/7 UK managing director, Tanya Pein, expects that 25% of 24/7 sales will be international within six months.

“Much attention is placed on the tripling of the UK online advertising market this year to £50 million and another tripling to £150 million at least is expected in 2000. But the greatest growth slips by unnoticed – international advertising, sourced in the UK. Single-site ad sales teams and ad saleshouses without a very strong international network cannot compete,” she says.

So what does the future hold for online saleshouses? With more and more sites looking for a network sell, there will always be great demand for new media saleshouses that can also sell into global markets.

A major consideration for all players at the moment is working across platforms, particularly interactive TV and third-generation mobiles, in order to make sure they are ready for whatever the future brings. The good news for the planner/buyer is that they aim to take the pain out of buying cross-media

interactive campaigns by working with platforms to enable an

interactive TV, web and phone campaign in the same buy. n

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