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The Magestic Splendor of Online Advertising! or some damn thing like that.

The Big News: The Big Three -- Is there a difference?
by Ryan Monceaux, Editor In Chief

In the past few months, the world of Online Advertising has been revolutionized by a tectonic shift by the major ad networks. As of now, there are three major networks (The Big Three) - Engage, DoubleClick and 24/7 Media - which have become the dominant forces in the industry. But due to several happenings in recent months, the Big Three have acquired in excess of 18 smaller firms and have rolled them up under the collective umbrellas of the parent company. The result is that the Big Three all look very similar to each other. The question is: Are any of the Big Three doing anything to differentiate themselves from their rival competition? examines the Big Three to see if there really is that much of a difference in the services they deliver.

24/7 Media is striving to become the number one network on a worldwide platform. With three major acquisitions since the beginning of the year, the company has shown its commitment to being recognized around the globe as the dominant ad network. Whether or not that happens depends on how the company can develop each of the regions it has centered on and adhere to the customs and personalities of each country.

Sabela and ClickThrough Interactive are leading ad networks across the globe and both have been recently acquired by 24/7. Sabela, which has focused primarily on Australia in the past, is looking to the Far East and Europe as the next horizons to expand its business. ClickThrough Interactive continues to control the ad networks in Canada as it represents more than 65 premium Web sites north of the border but will open even more offices across major cities of Canada.

In the United States, 24/7 has directed its attention to permission-based email marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions. Exactis, ConsumerNet and Sift have all worked at providing better email marketing campaigns to clients but now, under the heading of 24/7 Mail, will offer the industry's largest opt-in email database. The team of email marketing solutions will specialize in global email marketing and list brokerage and management.

In terms of CRM, 24/7 acquired AwardTrack in mid-February in an attempt to become the industry standard in this area. AwardTrack offers a points system that allows users to aggregate those points from several rewards programs but also to transfer points in real-time between the participating programs.

24/7 Media has made it's name through its extensive profile of Web sites and will attempt to continue to build that brand with its new globalization efforts as well becoming the industry leader in email marketing. The challenge for 24/7 is to become an ad server comparable to that of Engage and to fight for marketshare in that category.

Engage has quickly become one of the largest players in the Online Advertising industry as CMGI's answer to other leading ad networks. On January 20, 2000, CMGI acquired AdSmart and Flycast and rolled them into Engage, making the company a giant amongst boys. Engage's primary focus is quite broad as the company struggles to shift it's mission to a more centralized theme. Presently, Engage offers several solutions for ad management, targeting media buying.

AdSmart's part will continue to offer a network with vertical categories for sites dedicated to certain professions, maximizing the reach to a targeted audience, which is one of Engage's central themes. Flycast, which has always relied on ROI to broaden its share of the marketplace, becomes one of the major forces under the Engage heading as it continues to reach close to 40 percent of the Web each month.

Other pieces of the Engage puzzle (acquisition pending), which could deliver 6.4 million email subscribers through its database. The YesMail Network also includes a newsletter called WebPromote Weekly, which is sent to over 400,000 webmasters, publishers and other Web professionals. Traffic analyzer and researcher I/PRO enables Engage's clients to improve their online business.

Engage's model seems to be growing still as the company evolves into a competent player on the main stage of Online Advertising. To this date, with all of the recent acquisitions, Engage has not settled on what it wants to offer and what products it wants to spotlight to its clients.

DoubleClick has been in crisis-control mode for several weeks as the company has come under fire for its plan to link personal information to anonymous data it collects on its vast network. DoubleClick relented last week and said it would not continue (or begin - this is still up for debate) to link this data.

"It is clear from these discussions that I made a mistake by planning to merge names with anonymous user activity across Web sites in the absence of government and industry privacy standards," DoubleClick's CEO, Kevin O'Connor, said last week.

Even with this going on, DoubleClick has continued to add to its repertoire of quality acquisitions. NetGravity, the ad-serving arm of DoubleClick, represents over 360 companies worldwide. NetGravity offers a wide range of comprehensive software and service solutions to manage, target and analyze online campaigns.

Opt-in has become DoubleClick's email marketing service with more than 25 clients and 1.3 billion emails sent out to date. While DoubleClick and Opt-in have had a late start into the email marketing blitz, the parent company says that it hopes to be a player within the industry by the end of the year.

One of DoubleClick's major moves over the past year was the investment of $85 million in ValueClick, in which DoubleClick will receive a 30 percent equity stake in the cost-per-click ad network. DoubleClick said that for it to stay the largest Online Advertising firm, the company had to get into the cost-per-click area of the industry.

Obviously, DoubleClick remains a heavy player despite its recent problems. As the company's stock begins to rise again (from a low of under 80 to - at press time - to around 98) the company will see itself be recognized as a leader in the field. However, negative press resulted in the stock's plunge and in the company's decision to reverse itself over the privacy concerns. DoubleClick and O'Connor need to think through decisions it makes in the future as this issue has quieted but is not dead.

Clearly, all three major ad networks have their pluses and their minuses. While each attempts to clone the others' successes and avoid their failures, a real push is being made to be the all-inclusive network. However, can it work? Will it work? Will any company ever produce a full-fledged network that delivers all necessary services to its clients?

The answers are coming.

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