New Kid on the Rich Media Block Drives Web Sites to the Traffic

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BlueStreak.com, Newport, RI, formally launched this week, and the new player in the rich media arena is plying expanding banners that it says host transactions and can be built with the help of templates - and can therefore be tested quickly in the virtual marketplace.


As transactional applications, the company's banners handle sales and other customer interactions like survey-taking without hijacking Web surfers to advertisers' commerce sites. BlueStreak's technology then can take transactional data entered by the customer and plug it directly into a client's site. Company president and co-founder Annette Tonti likens the technique to pushing virtual stores straight to the customers.


"We're not driving traffic to a merchant's Web site. We're really about driving Web sites to the traffic," Tonti said.


Challenges lie ahead for a firm entering a field already occupied by established players, notably Thinking Media Corp., New York, and Excite@Home unit Enliven. The term "rich media" is defined variously, but generally it means banners that either use sound, three-dimensional graphics or allow transactions. Rich media banners are more effective in piquing Netizens' interest than regular banners, though some ascribe the improved click-throughs to the banners' novelty factor.


BlueStreak sets itself apart by, among other things, citing faster testing of banners. Naturally, banners made more quickly can be tried out in front of consumers more quickly. The firm offers an "On-the-Fly" tool set that brings banners to market faster, and BlueStreak has made template-like packaged components that advertisers can use to add streaming audio, video, e-commerce or other advanced elements to their banners.


Tonti said turnaround time varies from days to hours based on how complicated a banner is. BlueStreak does not do creative work for its business and ad agency clients.


Don Westridge, director of business development at Thinking Media, did not completely discount the concept of rich media templates for ushering banners to market. But he said such an idea might have its shortfalls.


"Our experience is that people usually want a little bit more than a cookie-cutter," Westridge said.


But BlueStreak's banners - called E*Banners - vary widely, and the company said they have other advantages. The banners expand to any size on the versions 3.0 and higher of either the Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape browsers, and they don't require any changes to the host site. BlueStreak's application also "sniffs out" a user's connection speed and merchants have the option of targeting individual consumers with simpler banners depending on their connection, Tonti said.


"We have the mechanisms technology-wise to choose whether an individual client, basically somebody on the Web, actually sees a rich media event or not depending on how much they can drink," she said.


E*Banners don't require plug-ins, and they have "real-time" functionality that allows auctions, stock trading or quickly updated information. The company expects host sites to like the banners, especially sites that don't want to lose their traffic.


Data behind BlueStreak banners loads incrementally to avoid bogging down a computer, and the first load is 7K or less. The banners are based on Java, technology that many Web surfers dislike because of its often sluggish download time. Tonti said that while BlueStreak can't fix Java, it can work within the constraints that it poses.


"It's something that we're all trying to overcome, and we're overcoming it in the sense of delivering to people looking at a Web site in a way that basically does not impact their viewing," she said.


E*Banners have already managed to attract some big name clients, including AT&T Corp., Ford Motor Co., tutoring firm Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. and prescription drug giant Pfizer Inc. BlueStreak's price structure varies; the company can charge for each impression, each click-through or each transaction.
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