MSN OKs Unicast Ads

Two months after it was shut out of MSN’s announcement that it would accept outside rich media ads, New York-based Unicast Communications has received MSN’s blessing of its rich media ad formats.

The alliance means Unicast’s Online Format Suite — including its Superstitials, floating ads, and in-page units — will be available throughout the Microsoft’s MSN network, which claims an audience of 300 million users. For MSN, the deal will allow it to target the growing number of advertisers using the Unicast format.

“We are having not only the third leading provider of rich media solutions onboard,” said Dave Chase, director of product development at MSN, “we’re doing that on a worldwide basis as well.”

The terms of the alliance were not disclosed.

Allie Savarino, Unicast’s senior vice president for global marketing, said Unicast’s MSN deal took longer to work out because the deep integration and breadth of offerings included. Now that an agreement has been negotiated, she expects Unicast’s 450 advertisers to take advantage of its formats’ growing reach.

“AOL, Yahoo and MSN are the big three,” she said. “With MSN’s global acceptance, it’s certainly a very big commitment.”

Unicast boasts a partner network of 1,100 sites, including deals with AOL and Yahoo!.

MSN was late to the rich media party, announcing only in late September that it would accept outside rich media ads, after high-traffic portal rivals AOL and Yahoo!. At the time, MSN unveiled partnerships with Eyeblaster and Point-Roll as third-party vendors. MSN agreed to accept Eyeblaster’s “takeover,” full-page overlay, and interstitial animation, as well as Point-Roll’s drop-down interactivity. MSN also offers rich media ads developed via its in-house technology.

Unicast and Eyeblaster will be available in MSN’s 34 international markets, while Point-Roll is currently available only domestically.

Chase said MSN took its time to roll out rich media to make sure third-party vendors would adhere to strict frequency caps across all formats, instead of just their own format, in order to ensure a quality user experience. In the end, he said, MSN would benefit from waiting.

“It comes down to we can hit the ground totally running,” he said. “We spent a lot of time pre-testing and aligning the portal to the various types of rich media providers.”

Rich media has been tabbed as a sure-fire growth area for online advertising, promising higher CPMs from traditional advertisers to the Net through eye-catching and compelling creative.

According to Jupiter Research, which is owned by the parent company of this site, rich media will account for 22 percent of all ads in five years.

Unicast ads have already begun running on MSN, with rich media placements by American Express, Wells Fargo, and General Motors.

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