Net Download Time to Be Filled by -- You Guessed It -- Advertising

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Just as nature abhors a vacuum, advertising loathes idle eyes and ears. The latest void-turned-marketing opportunity? The time Internet surfers spend waiting for Web pages to load.


Enter Zing Network Inc., San Francisco. The startup has launched Zing Player, a program available for free download at www.zing.com that lets consumers watch entertainment bits as they wait for pages to download from the Internet.


According to NetRatings Inc., the Web-waiting time is one heck of a hole. The Internet-usage monitoring firm contends that consumers accessing the Web from home wait an average of 15 seconds for a page with text and images to load. Also according to NetRatings (www.netratings.com), the average Internet consumer viewed 1,068 pages in June and 1,221 pages in July. That's an average wait of 9.4 minutes a day, or nearly five hours a month.


Using patented technology, the Zing Player pulls content from the Zing Web site while the computer's browser is idle and stores sound and images on the Web surfer's hard drive. The technology doesn't slow the Internet experience, Zing said.


During page loads, the Zing Player fires up automatically and delivers song clips, trivia, jokes, photographs or other content in the foreground while the Web page loads in the background. Subscribers can choose content from any of 10 channels, with titles like Car Culture, Art Gallery, Humor and Cartoons as well as Spanish and French flash-card channels.


Zing's content providers include the Rolling Stone Network, Billboard, Universal Studios and Hachette Filipacchi publications such as Premiere, Road & Track and Car & Driver. The company plans to begin offering advertisers time on its service in October and says it will limit advertising to 10 percent of its content.


"The fact that we are only 10 percent advertising means that there is less advertising clutter," said Steve Guttman, vice president of marketing.


The service currently claims 20,000 subscribers. Its goal is between 250,000 and 500,000 by year's end and 1 million by mid-1999. Initially, Zing will sell run-of-service advertising only, but it is collecting age, gender, ZIP code and job-type information from subscribers along with their interests for more targeted advertising sometime in the future.


Zing faces several challenges. Among the biggest is getting consumers to download the Zing Player. To attract subscribers, it is running an online sweepstakes offering the Zing Beetle, a Volkswagen decorated with Zing's red-hot-pepper logo.


According to Zing, advertising spots on its service will run five seconds and include links so the user can click to an advertiser's Web site.


What happens to Zing when future technology makes download time no longer an issue?


"That's something I can only hint at right now, but we're creating hundreds, if not thousands, of these spots per week," Guttman said, "and they can be delivered on a Web page as well as they can be delivered between Web pages."


Zing plans to capitalize on the likelihood that the service probably will lend itself well to impulse buying, but Guttman declined to elaborate.


"That one's still in the idea stages," he said.
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