Junior Net Targets Mothers With Free Trial Offer

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Junior Net Corp., a firm that offers interactive programs for children, this week said it is targeting young mothers with direct mail and Internet advertising.


The campaign is promoting the company's free 30-day trial for its ad-free, Internet-based games and educational exercises.


The subscription-based program is priced at $9.95 per month and allows parents to monitor their children's Web viewing. Passport News Media Inc. and America Online Inc. are two chief competitors in the market whose players highlight children's programs that receive new content on a daily or weekly basis.


Pat Johnson, chief operating officer of Junior Net, Boston, said this market is growing competitively, which makes luring mothers to his firm's subscription base and gathering market share as important as making money.


The ad-free format, he said, provides a significant advantage because most parents appreciate not exposing their children to advertising. Junior Net's third version of its product -- which is the same as its company's name -- is scheduled for rerelease this summer.


The firm's business model is in stark contrast to Passport's ad-based revenue stream.


Johnson said his company has preferred smaller-scale advertising, such as magazine inserts, in promoting its product.


"We haven't been trying to light up the sky with a bunch of television ads," he said.


Passport, Los Angeles, also has preferred low-key advertising. It is using e-mail and direct mail to prepare for the national launch this fall of its Your Own World.


However, YOW was released in Minneapolis/St. Paul in January where company officials said 2 percent of mothers with children between ages 3 and 12 have installed its software. Kim Hatamiya, senior vice president of marketing, said her firm has been running a compact disc insert program in the Sunday edition of the Star Tribune that has been important in attaining early market share in the Twin Cities.


Passport also has run CD inserts in Parent magazine, and YOW has been a featured product in the publication's national tour of children's museums. Hatamiya said the newspaper and magazine inserts were sent to only subscribers with children between ages 3 and 12.


"It's been a real targeted effort, and the inserts have definitely proved effective in terms of getting the software out there," she said.


YOW and Junior Net are installed with CDs in the same manner as typical Internet services. Unlike Junior Net, which runs online, YOW is primarily an offline program; although, it automatically retrieves daily content from Passport's Web server.


The system is stored on a user's hard drive, and parents can select a time of day in which games and learning applications can be added to the software. Parents can then review the content for approval. Junior Net works in a very similar way. However, it is run online at all times.


Both companies claim product superiority. For example, Passport boasts that parents will choose YOW because it's free while Junior Net claims that parents will be lured by its ad-free content.


America Online has included its parental controls program with its basic Web service package since 1996, making it one of the earliest known Internet channels designed to protect children from inappropriate content. A spokeswoman for AOL, Dulles, VA, said its 17 million Internet service members gave it an uncommon advantage in the market.


Junior Net's Johnson said there is probably room for several companies to exist in this business area but acknowledged the segment is getting tighter.


"It's an emerging market," he said. "However, I think it won't be too long before it plateaus."
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