Sprinks Inks MSNBC.com Content-Ad Deal

Paid listings provider Sprinks and MSNBC.com announced a deal Monday for Sprinks contextual advertising links to appear on MSNBC.com for the next nine months.

The deal calls for Sprinks, a unit of Primedia’s About, to provide contextually relevant paid listings through its ContentSprinks offering in a number of MSNBC.com sections, including travel, health, technology, sports, business and living. Visitors to those sections can see up to three paid listings, from Sprinks’ pool of 15,000 advertisers, at the bottom of the page under the heading “Sponsored Sites.”

For example, an MSNBC.com page on summer books carries links from advertisers selling self-publishing tools and used books.

Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

“I’ve been thinking for a long time about how we crack classified advertising,” said Scott Moore, MSNBC.com’s president. “Classified advertising is a huge category. This looks like a way for us to tap into that revenue stream.”

By adding MSNBC.com, which had nearly 20 million unique visitors in May according to Nielsen//NetRatings, Sprinks has scored a coup in the nascent contexutal links industry. With contextual advertising links, advertisers’ targeted text links are served on relevant content pages, instead of search results pages. Since Sprinks launched ContentSprinks last November, search heavyweights Google and Overture Services have entered the market.

Unlike Google and Overture, Sprinks does not scan content pages to determine the appropriate ad, instead mapping the content page to its taxonomy of over 1,000 categories. Sprinks claims the approach yields more relevant ads.

“Sprinks had a system that was ready to go, that we could plug and play,” said Moore. “I wanted to get some data about how it would work as soon as possible. We’re not looking at this as an end-all and be-all but as a kind of test.”

MSNBC.com does not carry paid search listings. MSN, one of MSNBC’s parent companies, carried paid search listings from Overture and recently began carrying its Content Match listings on some channels.

So far, Sprinks has lined up a number of top-flight content sites to use ContentSprinks. A month ago, it inked a multiyear deal with AOL for listings to appear in sections of Netscape, CompuServe, and the homepage of its instant-messenger service. Sprinks also has deals with CBS MarketWatch, Forbes.com, and iVillage. Yahoo! is in the midst of testing the service.

Google has taken a different approach, looking to sew up wide distribution deals with an emphasis on self-published Web pages and niche sites that might not have previously had advertising options. The company has deals to serve links on Lycos Europe’s Tripod users’ Web pages, BlogSpot pages, and sites in the Burst Media and FastClick ad networks. To further drive distribution, Google last month rolled out a self-service tool for publishers to quickly and easily sign up to carry Content-Targeted AdWords on their sites.

Like Sprinks, Overture has eschewed that approach in favor of signing bigger publishers. Last week, the company introduced its contextual advertising product, Content Match, with distribution partners that include MSN, Edmunds.com and the Away Network.

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