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Free Video Returns to CNN.com

With the 2005 revenue from online advertising edging toward the highs of the dot-com heyday, online news site CNN.com has decided to round up a few million more eyeballs with the return of free video offerings on its Web site.

The cable news division of Time Warner plans to keep the subscription-based offerings it launched in 2002, with extra features planned for the paying crowd.

But now visitors to the cable channel's Web version can, in return for watching an advertisement on the site, launch and watch news snippets on-demand to their hearts' content.

The move to free makes sense as more viewers get high-speed Internet connections and the cost of serving up the videos to viewers drops, said Susan Grant, executive vice president of CNN News Services.

By CNN.com's count, over 75 million U.S. consumers are wired for speedy Web connections at home, while some 45 million have a broadband connection at work.

The change to free videos on the high-traffic site comes amid a booming online advertising market. The widely read Jack Myers 2005 Spending Forecast calls for online advertising to grow to $10.2 billion in 2005, a 30 percent jump from 2004 spending levels. The bullish ad outlook is driving major acquisitions of Web properties by media players, such as Dow Jones' $519 million purchase of CBS Marketwatch.com and The New York Times Company's $410 million purchase of About.com.

Several industries will post double-digit compound annual increases in online advertising spends over the next five years, with hot categories including health (19.7 percent), automotive (33.8 percent), travel (18.3 percent) and household goods (15.1 percent), according to JupiterResearch, whose parent company also owns this site.

CNN.com faces plenty of competition for the 23 million unique visitors it counts on its site each month, including from its archrival FoxNews.com.

CNN.com's Grant told internetnews.com that the video offering is broad. "It's not just video-on-demand of the day's top stories, but also an exclusive Webcast called 'Now in the News.' I think a lot of folks will find that an attractive hourly update."

The videos will be available in a wide screen format, and will offer news stories across 14 categories, including Top Stories, U.S., World, Politics, Business, Sports and Entertainment.

The wide-screen format for the video is at a 16 x 9 ratio and is similar to HDTV dimensions. And, not to be outdone on the video search side of the house, the CNN.com offering features a Browse Video function that helps users organize their video news searches. Grant said the search function was built in-house, along with the player for the videos.