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Watch Ads, Get a Free PC

A United Kingdom startup is willing to give desktop computers to 200,000 UK consumers who agree to three minutes of on-screen advertising every hour.

Metronomy, London, said it would ship an IBM desktop computer with Intel Celeron processor and 15-inch screen to consumers willing to view a one-minute ad every 20 minutes that the computer is in use for three years. The consumer faces no charges so long as the ads are viewed and other conditions are met. The offer is available only in the UK.

Consumers are required to load a CD-ROM monthly that carries the advertising. If the CD is not loaded each month within a week of its receipt, the computer will be disabled. The company said it would show “TV-quality” ads targeted to households based on their demographic data. Metronomy limits the offer to one per household, also requiring that the computer be in use 30 hours and connected to the Internet for at least one hour per month.

Every three years Metronomy promises to replace the computer with a new one. The company hopes the offer will attract consumers who have not yet bought a computer.

When customers register, they fill out a short questionnaire that gauges their household's Internet use and collects demographic data. Metronomy uses the data to target the ads users see on their computer screens.

Offering free or low-cost PCs in exchange for services or advertising was an idea that quickly faded during the Internet boom. In 1999, Free-PC.com offered customers a computer in exchange for continual advertising that would run on the bottom of the computer screen. Though the company failed, its founder, Bill Gross, went on to pioneer the paid search market with Overture Services.

AOL revived the idea recently with the offer of a PC for $299 in return for a year's worth of Internet service, in an effort to appeal to the same demographic of new Internet users that Metronomy has targeted. Adware companies like Claria and WhenU.com have millions of users who are served contextual advertising tied to their browsing habits in exchange for a piece of software, like a screensaver or file-sharing program.

Metronomy plans to ship its first computers in February. Its representatives told Reuters that it would have ads ready to go by April 1.

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