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MySpace Tops in Display Ads

Driven by heavy traffic to the popular social network MySpace, News Corp.'s Fox Interactive Media division served more display ads than any other U.S. Web property in June, according to new figures from online metrics firm comScore.

Of the 52.3 billion display ads FIM served, MySpace accounted for 51 billion. The nearest competitor was Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO), which served up 34.7 billion throughout its Web properties.

By market share, FIM accounted for 15.9 percent of all display ad views, compared to Yahoo's 10.5 percent.

The new figures are striking considering the difficulties that have surrounded advertising on the social networks. Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently told attendees at the company's developer's conference that Facebook hadn't yet figured out its revenue model.

Both News Corp. and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), which serves ads on Facebook's rival MySpace, have admitted that squeezing ad dollars from the heavily trafficked site wasn't as easy as they thought.

Past troubles aside, the new comScore figures build on a promising trend for the site. News Corp. reported a 57 percent increase in fiscal fourth-quarter operating profits over the year-earlier period for its FIM division, a spike that the company largely attributed to higher search and display ad revenue from MySpace.

Behind MySpace and Yahoo in display ads served was AOL, which served 19 billion ads, followed by Microsoft at 15.5 billion, Google with 5.1 billion and Facebook with 3.7 billion.

Yahoo, a distant second behind Google in search ads, has long enjoyed a lead in display ads. Now, having survived Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) failed takeover bid, Yahoo remains under intense pressure from shareholders who have seen the company's stock price dip to below $20 after walking away from Microsoft's offer of $33.

Yahoo has talked recently of the search and display ad markets converging, envisioning a marketplace where advertisers will make integrated buys rather than opting for one format or the other. On the search side, Yahoo has inked a deal to import ads from Google, which more effectively monetizes its search queries. No doubt the latest display numbers will be seen by some as a further erosion of Yahoo's market position.

But MySpace eclipsing Yahoo in terms of display ads viewed only tells part of the story. By the comScore metrics, ads on Yahoo sites reached the largest number of unique visitors, 130.7 million, compared to the 83.7 million uniques who saw ads on MySpace. That metric highlights the difference between traffic to a social network, where some people return several times each day, and a sprawling content network such as Yahoo. In terms of total unique visitors, Yahoo ranks a close second behind Google's network of sites, according to another set of comScore numbers. But ad impressions are the result of total page views, irrespective of how many ads the same person might be seeing.

Then, too, the sheer number of ads served does correlate directly with revenue. Part of the trouble with monetizing social networks has been that they generally command lower CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) than content-focused networks where a Web user's interest is easier to discern.

Also, comScore has recently changed its methodology to exclude house ads and small placements that it calls "chiclet" ads.

Even with that shift, Yahoo is also not entirely confident that the new figures are accurate.

In an e-mail to InternetNews.com, Yahoo spokesman Adam Grossberg wrote, "We believe there could be issues with the measurement that could be misrepresenting Yahoo and we are reviewing comScore's methodology and working with them to resolve these issues."

MySpace did not respond to a request for comment on the figures.

comScore also included in its report a ranking of who's doing the most spending on display advertising. In June, Microsoft bought the most ad space, garnering 5.5 billion display ad views due in part to its heavy promotion of Windows Live Search.

The other heaviest advertisers were the University of Phoenix (4.7 billion views), Experian (4 billion), which buys ads for sites like FreeCreditReport.com and LowerMyBills.com, and United Online (3.9 billion), which owns Classmates.com.

Communications providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Deutsche Telekom and Vonage were also heavy display advertisers.