Service Offers Free Long Distance If Callers Listen to Targeted Ads

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SAN FRANCISCO -- BroadPoint Communications used the DMA's fall show last week to bring attention to its new long-distance telephone service that lets users make free calls within the United States.

The service, FreeWay, gives subscribers free minutes to make long-distance calls in exchange for listening to commercial messages tailored to their interests. BroadPoint, Landover, MD, hopes to roll out the system nationally by the end of the year. It currently has 10,000 subscribers in the Pittsburgh area. The service was launched with Duquesne Enterprises, an affiliate of Duquesne Light Co., Pittsburgh.

So far, 70 advertisers have signed up, including the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Vermont Teddy Bear, The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Polygram Home Entertainment and the World Wrestling Federation. BroadPoint announced at the show that Intuit, Mountain View, CA, a software company best known for Quicken personal finance software, will begin advertising soon.

Messages can be delivered in a variety of ways: to a specific number of individuals and at certain times of the day, week, month or season. Messages also can be delivered in response to external triggers like fluctuations in the stock market, interest rates and even the weather. Messages can be grouped to create a story line that unfolds each time a caller accesses the system. FreeWay also lets subscribers interact with advertisers to request more information, order catalogs and provide feedback to questions.

Advertisers pay only for the messages delivered, and FreeWay is designed to "ensure that subscribers hear every message," said A. Perry Kamel, president and CEO of BroadPoint. "They can't just put the phone down and walk away because a response is required at the end of each message to proceed with the call."

Many advertisers already have seen results from the service, Kamel said, most notably, Eagle's Eye Sportswear, which achieved response rates of 27 percent. Pricing is 6 cents to 14 cents per impression, and it increases in relation to the degree of targeting and message functionality desired, as well as the characteristics of the targeted audience.

Subscribers register for FreeWay on the company's Web site or by calling a toll-free number and fill out a customer profile, which asks questions about income, education, work, hobbies and interests. This information gives BroadPoint the demographic profile it needs to help advertisers decide how to place ads. Subscribers get a personal identification number to enter when calling the FreeWay number (1-877-Freeway), and the system selects a targeted 10- to 15-second message. Then, the subscriber can press the star button on the touch pad to hear more ads or press another option to complete their call. Each message a caller listens to earns him two minutes of free talk time.

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