MEDIA: Who’ll make the Web a main-line medium?

News International’s long-awaited foray into electronic newspapers begins this week with the launch of Internet editions of The Times and The Sunday Times. In two months’ time, advertisers’ directory Brad will launch its first listings of Internet publications which carry advertising.

News International’s long-awaited foray into electronic newspapers

begins this week with the launch of Internet editions of The Times and

The Sunday Times. In two months’ time, advertisers’ directory Brad will

launch its first listings of Internet publications which carry

advertising.



The Web seems to be coming of age as an ad medium, but when pressed,

even its strongest supporters admit it still isn’t up there alongside

conventional media.



‘I’d say we’re targeting R&D budgets as much as media budgets,’ says

Simon Jones, commercial manager for Internet publishing at News

International.



That’s one of the reasons why his new site doesn’t have a ratecard,

despite the presence of advertisers such as PeopleBank and Sun

Microsystems.



‘Selling this isn’t like selling ad space in The Times and The Sunday

Times,’ says Jones. Instead of fixed costs for slots, he offers three

levels of involvement: Hotlinks, which readers can click on to jump to

an advertiser’s own Web site; sponsorship of parts of the site; and an

all-in service using News International’s Delphi subsidiary to design

and run Web sites for advertisers which can be accessed from News

International’s site.



Right now, none of these look like huge money-spinners. Certainly over

at The Guardian, whose GO2 (pronounced Go To) site went live in

November, recruitment ads are still free and, as at The Times, there’s

no ratecard for display. Instead, advertisement director Carolyn McCall

is looking for a couple of partners rather than a long list of

advertisers buying standard spots.



The Electronic Telegraph has been around since November 1994 and now

claims 150,000 registered users, with 15,000 individuals visiting the

site every day. Advertisers have included TSB, Vauxhall, Barclays and

United Airlines. It sounds impressive, but technical manager Fiona

Carter agrees that many have come at it as an R&D exercise rather than a

part of the media schedule. Nevertheless, some advertisers, such as

United Airlines and Barclays, have already come back for more.



Reel to real



For all these publishers, being online is more an expression of hopes

for the future than a present-day money-spinner. For News International

especially, the possibilities are huge. When the speed of the Internet

increases enough for real-time video to be a possibility, there’s no

reason why a Times report on rugby shouldn’t carry full-motion footage

of the crucial tries, courtesy of Sky TV.



All this depends, firstly, on technical advances, and there seems little

doubt that they will come. But it also depends on Internet access

becoming popular with consumers, and that could take much longer.



As with satellite TV in its early days, Internet publishing faces a

dilemma: without good content, few consumers will hook up. But without

those consumers, few media owners will want to provide the really good

content that will draw them in.



News International has linked up with Motorola to offer an Internet

start-up kit to encourage readers to get on-line.

It was News International and Amstrad which broke the deadlock in

satellite. Could they do the same for the Net?



The nationals online



* The most developed national newspaper site is Electronic Telegraph

(www.telegraph.co.uk) which was one year old in November. It charges

pounds 25,000 for six weeks, during which time advertisers’ copy moves

around between editorial sections.



* There’s no fixed ratecard for the Internet editions of The Times and

The Sunday Times (www.the-times.co.uk), but the entry-level cost will be

around pounds 12,500, which buys two ‘hotlinks’ facing editorial matter

for three months.



* The Guardian’s GO2 (GO2.guardian.co.uk) also declines to offer a

ratecard.



* The Financial Times (www.ft.com) launched last May.



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