December 11th, 2007

Widget syndicator Clearspring launches ad network

By Eric Auchard
Reuters

Clearspring Technologies Inc, the leading independent provider of “widget” software for syndicating Web site features or content, said on Monday that it was introducing a network for distributing advertising.

The Widget Ad Network allows Web publishers to run ads on affiliated sites inside widgets, which are Web tools or games that a user can embed on their social network profiles, home pages or blogs and share with friends.

Unlike conventional online advertising that is served up to users by Web sites, widget ads are distributed by the users themselves, potentially offering a much faster way to expand the audience for an ad.

Initial advertisers taking part in the Widget Ad Network are cell phone service Virgin Mobile, video rental site Blockbuster Online, movie studio Lionsgate Films and The Learning Channel, Clearspring executives said.

Publishers joining Clearspring’s ad network include two News Corp units—Fox TV and Twentieth Century Fox Television—along with The Huffington Post blog and the National Hockey League.

McLean, Virginia-based Clearspring will also use its widgets to deliver interactive ads from Gannett Co Inc.’s PointRoll, the largest provider of so-called rich media online advertising.

The PointRoll ads, called SnaggableAds, can incorporate advertising from any of its 1,500 clients alongside widgets such as games, animated cartoons, audio, video, or dynamic Web data. The more compelling the widget, the greater the likelihood that users will grab it and spread it to other Web pages.

Clearspring says it is the first to offer a widget-based advertising network that runs across independent sites. It builds its widgets so that users quickly can embed interesting content on social networks like News Corp’s MySpace, Facebook or Friendster.

Several months ago, Google Inc. introduced a similar service called Gadget Ads, which is designed to work on its affiliated sites. Social network site Facebook features a form of widget-based advertising inside its own site of 55 million users.

“If an advertiser wants to get their message beyond just Facebook, then Clearspring is the way to do that,” said Peggy Fry, the company’s senior vice president.

Clearspring, backed by former AOL leaders Steve Case, Ted Leonsis and Miles Gilburne, has signed up 70 publishers for its existing widget content syndication network, including most of the top 10 media companies.

Because the content in its syndicated widgets comes from recognized media brands, Clearspring says its service has distinct advantages for advertisers, compared with the “anything goes” ethic of much of the content created on the Web.

Jason Tafler, senior vice president of business operations at PointRoll, cited research showing that 7 percent to 8 percent of viewers click on or otherwise interact with widget ads, or 35 to 40 times greater than the click-through rate on regular banner ads.

Clearspring developed the advertising portion of its service with Adify Inc.’s Build Your Own Network, a system for serving up targeted advertising and tracking the resulting performance of the ads.

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