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Ad-Free MP3 Version May Block Rich-Media Abuse

Ad-serving-network and agency executives think MP3.com's introduction of a new ad-free subscription service will help counteract what they perceive as an increasing abuse of rich media advertising by many marketers. What's more, the service could help weed out undesirable prospects.

MP3 launched Ad-Free MP3, at www.mp3.com/adfree, this week so music fans could “enjoy their music … without annoying audio or visual commercial interruptions.”

“I think MP3's service is self-defense,” said Karim Sanjabi, founder/CEO of San Francisco-based agency Freestyle Interactive. “The viewers are yelling, saying they hate this annoying, irrelevant advertising, and the agencies and, worst of all, the advertisers are ignoring their customers.”

“We see more deceptive uses of rich media, such as pop-unders, [as in the case of the controversial X10.com digital camera ads] pop-ups and … taking over the screens of Web sites,” said Harris Damashek, senior account manager at Critical Mass, a Chicago-based agency. “Then, the entire screen becomes advertising property … and like editorial, and the line between the advertiser and the publisher becomes somewhat nonexistent.”

“Many of our users have made it clear that they want to escape pop-up windows and other commercial solicitations,” said Michael Robertson, chairman/CEO of MP3.com. Robertson said he thinks that MP3 is the first Web company to offer both an ad-supported site and an ad-free site.

Users pay $2.99 a month or $29.99 a year for Ad-Free MP3.

In the near future, “all major online entities will employ some hybrid of the Ad-Free service,” said Greg Wilfahrt, vice president, public relations for MP3.

However, the service is not intended to replace traditional advertising services, just offer another option, Wilfahrt said.

“What we have are two different audiences: those who have more money than time [those willing to subscribe] and those who have more time than money [those satisfied with the free component that includes advertising and longer loads as part of the user experience],” he said.

Though Internet ad executives say they support “judicious” use of rich media and pop-up ads, they think ad-free subscription services are good for some consumers, and possibly even warranted.

“I think it's great that MP3 is giving consumers a choice,” said David Moore, CEO of 24/7 Media Inc. “Our position is, as a consumer, there is no free lunch. If you're not going to give me the information I need to monetize that [information] to an advertiser, you need to pay me.”

Some consumers with privacy concerns refuse to provide basic information, such as gender and age. Those customers do not benefit advertisers and may be served better by an ad-free subscription model, Moore said.

However, Moore does not think the ad-free service will be overwhelmingly popular.

“I think we're going to see more people that offer that option, but I do believe a small percentage of the folks will actually take advantage of it,” he said.

The industry's use of “deceptive” and annoying ads has forced the introduction of this model, experts say.

“The industry needs to control themselves and act with the user's best interest in mind,” Damashek said, adding that the proper use of interactive, rich media ads is invaluable. A banner that lets a consumer enter a sweepstakes within the ad, for example, serves a purpose.

Online consumers enjoy high-quality, relevant advertising and reload entertaining and interactive ads, Sanjabi said. However, many pop-up and pop-under ads “go against the best and most effective ideas in online marketing.

“The majority of pop-up/under ads aren't too big [or] too long, but they are just irrelevant junk,” Sanjabi said. “Far too often, the pop-up ads I see are degrading, irrelevant, advertising cheap products with no brand. The ads themselves lack any production quality.”

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