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As Google expands its lucrative ad network to new markets, industry watchers increasingly believe the search giant will buy its way into the nascent market for advertising inside video games.
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Google has reportedly looked at acquiring AdScape Media, a small company, founded in Ontario and now based in San Francisco, that specializes in so-called in-game ads. Google did not return calls seeking comment, and an AdScape spokeswoman declined to comment on the talks.
Though an industry insider who asked to remain anonymous said negotiations had stalled, such an acquisition would allow Google to take on old foe Microsoft, which last year acquired a similar but larger company called Massive. In-game ads, however, are one place where Microsoft would have a rare advertising advantage over Google thanks to thriving sales of its Xbox 360 gaming console and a long list of gaming titles.
“Google would be playing catch-up against some significant entrenched providers,” said Michael Goodman, a program manager at research firm Yankee Group Research. “The biggest challenge for them is they might see themselves closed out of the Xbox as a platform to serve ads to.”
In-game ads may sound like a niche, but it’s a growing one that reaches a choice demographic for advertisers. A recent Nielsen Entertainment study found that men aged 18 to 34 are spending more time playing video games (12.5 hours on average per week) and less time watching television (9.8 hours per week). About 6 million U.S. households have at least one “power gamer,” someone who spends as much as 20 hours per week and $50 per month on games, and there are more than 15 million active players of casual games, which are free ad-supported games such as Tetris or cards, said Michael Cai, director of broadband and gaming for Parks Associates.
“It’s not a pimply faced teenage kid playing video games in the basement anymore. It’s people with a lot of disposable income,” said Jeff Berg, content editor at the Interpublic Emerging Media Lab think tank. “It’s a natural space for Google to move into if they can do it effectively.”
The dollar value of this market isn’t nearly as small as many people would think. Parks Associates predicts that game advertising revenue will grow from $120 million in 2006 to $200 million this year and $300 million in 2008. Yankee Group forecasts in-game ad revenue to reach $732 million by 2010. Buying AdScape wouldn’t get Google a lot of new customers, but it would get the company technology, Goodman said. “Google already has significant relationships with advertisers, but they would have to build up relationships with game publishers,” he said.
“Google is the king of search ads, but they aren’t that dominant in brand advertising.”
–Michael Cai, director, Parks Associates
Over the last 18 months, the search giant has been rapidly moving into new ad markets such as print and radio, using its automated online ad-delivery system to provide a way for advertisers to reach new customers via offline mediums. Google purchased radio advertising provider dMarc Broadcasting for just over $100 million a year ago and has been conducting radio ad delivery tests.
While it’s hard to imagine virtual world games like World of Warcraft being a great advertising vehicle for Coke or Pepsi, plenty of games could be ideal, such as sporting titles.
“For example, we take Nike’s (ads) they’ve used for print or television and implement that straight into the games across our sports titles,” said Justin Townsend, chief executive of in-game advertising firm IGA Worldwide. The ad is delivered over the Internet and can be changed depending on which advertiser has purchased the ad rights, he said. The ads are targeted geographically, so players in Germany, for example, will see a German version of the ad. Because Google’s greatest success has been in contextually targeted ads rather than display ads, it might be better suited serving ads that appear alongside casual games, which are sold over the Web, Cai said.
“The question is whether Google is interested in getting into a new media form–gaming, and whether they are looking beyond search and trying to address a new ad business–display advertising,” he said. “Google is the king of search ads, but they aren’t that dominant in brand advertising.” But is the gaming industry ready for Google’s automated kind of advertising?
“It’s not clear,” said Jonathan Epstein, chief executive of Double Fusion, a competitor to AdScape, IGA and Massive. “It doesn’t mean it can’t get there, but when you look at how markets evolve it’s always the specialists that drive innovation and focus in the market.” Eva Woo, vice president of marketing at AdScape, said her company has a technology that allows advertisers to interact with consumers without interrupting the game, something that could appeal to Google. If a gamer opts in, AdScape’s Real World Virtual World Gateway will deliver messages via SMS or e-mail from the advertiser, Woo said.
When the game detects that a player has reached a certain level in the game or that a player is having problems getting beyond an obstacle in the game, for example, the advertiser could offer hints, rewards or coupons. “We’ve been developing this (advertising) technology for five years,” she said. “We have one patent issued and 15 patents pending.”
A risk for Google, of course, is getting shut out of Microsoft’s growing Xbox market, and the question remains whether gamers will rebel against publishers who allow advertisers into their gaming worlds.
“Male gamers playing core games don’t mind ads if they help make the gaming experience more realistic rather than disrupting their gaming activity,” Cai said.
By Paul Sloan, Business 2.0 Magazine editor-at-large
Homemade instructional videos like SalsaBootCamp are booming online – and almost anyone can cash in.
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When Evan Margolin launched SalsaBootCamp to sell instructional video clips online, everyone he knew told him it was a crazy idea. Why would people offer up their credit cards to him – a dance teacher known only to his students in San Francisco – when they could watch thousands of dance videos for free on sites like YouTube?
Yet aspiring salsa dancers have signed up in droves, even as Margolin has raised the monthly subscription price from $9 to $37. Four months after its launch, SalsaBootCamp.com is making $20,000 a month.
“If I wasn’t watching the money roll in,” Margolin says, “I wouldn’t believe it myself.”
Big media companies have largely stopped selling subscriptions for their online content, opting instead to build traffic and cram their sites with ads. Yet the subscription model has become a shrewd way for smaller players to make money, especially among the super-niche sites of the Net. There are subscription sites for everything from online soccer lessons for kids to becoming a personal fitness trainer.
Making a go at this, in fact, takes zero technical knowledge and not much up-front money. The key requirement is having a subject about which you can offer some know-how, so you can create a service that people will willingly pay for month after month.
Margolin, 36, found his niche a decade ago, when his big brother dragged him to a salsa club. He eventually became a dance teacher, although his main income has come from various Internet marketing jobs. Margolin says he had toyed with the idea of creating a subscription dance site off and on since 2001 but never did it because the technology wasn’t good enough: The video was cumbersome and slow.
Then last summer one of his students began recording the dance class on a camera phone, burning it to a CD, and asking him to post it on a website. “I thought, ‘Damn, maybe the time is right,'” Margolin says.
So he got started. A number of online software tools now exist to run a subscription business, and Margolin chose one called Membergate. It costs a few thousand dollars, but it handles everything: video support, hosting, payment methods, and so on. He then paid a student $11 an hour to videotape his dance moves. The quality is raw; no fancy film-editing software needed here.
Next, Margolin spent $1,000 or so to give the site some useful Web cred, which he says people too often mistakenly scrimp on.
He posted the Better Business Bureau’s online seal, allowing users to file complaints, and the TRUSTe seal, which verifies that an e-commerce site is secure. He also added testimonials from students. Some are written comments; others are video clips – cheesy-looking interviews attesting to Margolin’s skills. “Hokey works if it’s real,” the instructor says.(If you’re starting from scratch, Margolin suggests, offer your product for free at first and ask people who like it to post comments.)
After a few weeks, the site was ready to go. Margolin drove traffic by buying paid search ads on Google (Charts) and Yahoo (Charts) and by spreading the word in online dance communities. “If you’re really passionate about the topic,” he says, “you’ll know most of the resources to turn to.”
He currently has 1,000 members and is adding a few every day. The trick now is to keep it up: keep marketing, keep adding content. It’s not a do-nothing path to riches. But if you can land even a few hundred subscribers, you can make some sweet, and profitable, moves.
Below is an interview with KeepYouSafe. We hope you find the interview informative and useful. Please visit their website and check it out! http://keepyousafe.com/
TechAddress: Tell me a bit about your company, what it does and what’s your value proposition?
KeepYouSafe: KeepYouSafe.Com offers digital safe deposit boxes that people use to safely store vital personal information such as insurance policies, financial and medical records and the like. An Online Safe Deposit BoxSM is completely secure, totally private and accessible from anywhere at any time. All you need is an internet connection and a web browser.
TechAddress: What makes your company stand apart from your competitors?
KeepYouSafe: Our competition requires consumers to download special client software to manage data backup. In addition, our competitors focus on offering consumers a way to back up their photos, music files, and other data stored on their computers.
At KeepYouSafe.Com, we designed a browser-based service to give consumers a safe and secure Online Safe Deposit Box to store their most important documents in case of disaster, fire, or theft – insurance policies and inventories, financial account information, wills, etc.
Initially, KeepYouSafe.com’s small Online Safe Deposit Box is free. Members may upgrade at any time to a larger box for only $36 per year.
TechAddress: What are some of the main features?
KeepYouSafe: There are three features that stand out about KeepYouSafe.com:
1) Simplicity. Check out our user interface. If you are a true geek, encrypting your most important data, duplicating it or emailing it around the world seems simple enough, but for the other 99 percent of the real world it’s not so straightforward.
We provide every one of our customers with safety, security, and a user-friendly experience. We are a browser-based service. Wherever you are in the world, your life’s most vital records are protected by your personal username and password at KeepYouSafe.Com.
2) Security. Everything our members store in their Online Safe Deposit Box is encrypted using 256-bit AES encryption. In our case, “military grade encryption” is not marketing hype. The only copy of a member’s key or password is with the member. Keepyousafe.com does not store a copy of the member’s password. Our systems are locked down, monitored, audited and reviewed on a daily basis to ensure maximum security.
3) 24/7/365 days a year. What good is protecting your vital information, if you can’t get to it when you need to? We’ve placed “hot” backup servers in the U.S. and in Europe where all our customer’s data is securely replicated. You are always protected.
TechAddress: Who is your target customer or audience?
KeepYouSafe: Anyone that values the safety, security and protection of their vital documents will value from our service.
We will target consumers who are aware of the importance of safely storing their most important documents – business travelers, investors, retirees, small business owners, etc.
We will also be introducing an approved affiliate program and “white label” service. We believe these partnerships will help drive additional growth for the company.
TechAddress: Any new things in particular that you’re working on right now?
KeepYouSafe: We have plans to launch a “white label” service that allows companies to offer branded Online Safe Deposit Boxes to their customers, clients, prospects and employees, and is powered by KeepYouSafe.com. Stay tuned for future announcements via our blog at http://us.keepyousafe.com/blog/.
TechAddress: Where do you see your company heading in the future?
KeepYouSafe: We are focused on creating tools to not just help people “survive” a catastrophe, but be “ALIVE”. The name of our company is Information Survival. We have some patents in the pipeline and are looking at innovative ways to help both consumers and businesses protect and secure their vital information.
For example, imagine layering our global secure Information Survival network (API) over a health care records system, within the HR department of a Fortune 500 company or a credit card processing network. The uses are truly endless.
TechAddress: Any negative feedback or criticism regarding technology and services?
KeepYouSafe: The comment we hear a lot is “why do I need your service, I can just encrypt my data and email it to myself”? Sure, YOU can, but can your mother, father, sister do the same thing?
Is your ISP or web-based email provider dedicated to keeping your data secure and available in a catastrophe? Will you even have the ability to decrypt the data when an emergency arises?
We didn’t build KeepYouSafe.Com for geeks. We built it for consumers looking for a safe and secure online service to store their most important documents and information.
TechAddress: So what would you say is the guiding principle behind your company?
KeepYouSafe: We all come from data security backgrounds, but at one point or another in our lives we have witnessed the human aspect of emergencies and disasters, in addition to the technology side.
We brought our compassion and security background together when we started KeepYouSafe.Com. We wanted to be able to offer people a free Online Safe Deposit Box, so that everyone had a safe place to put their most important information, files and records in case of a catastrophe.
There is something very comforting in knowing that if a disaster, accident, fire, or theft strikes, your vital records are safe and secure and available anytime and anyplace.
TechAddress: What is the mission of your company and what are you bringing to the market that is innovative?
KeepYouSafe: I think we touched upon it earlier – what makes us different is we’re not just a back-up service for the photos, music, and documents stored on your computer. We protect the vital documents and information that everyone will need at their fingertips in the event of an emergency.
TechAddress: Where are you in terms of funding and your lifecycle?
KeepYouSafe: We have secured a solid round of angel funding to get us off of the ground. Shortly, we will begin discussions for additional funding to fuel our growth.
The social-networking site MySpace.com has donated technology it helped develop to identify and block sexual predators from online communities.
The company, a unit of News Corp., said it will donate its Sentinel Safe database software to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. MySpace has been developing the program with Sentinel Tech Holding Corp. The program promises to let Web sites to identify convicted sex offenders and bar them from their online communities, although it might not catch those who sign up under false names.
Sentinel Safe contains information on the estimated 600,000 registered sex offenders in the United States and is designed to receive updates from state sex offender registries. The tool is used by MySpace security officials who monitor profiles on the site and match identities against the database, then remove suspect profiles.
The donation of the technology to the center is meant to help law-enforcement officials with missing-children cases and other child-related investigations. MySpace has increased its efforts to police its growing site after complaints from parents about sexual predators using the popular community to contact underage children. Those efforts include hiring a former federal prosecutor to head an expanded security team.
This week, the company also said it would back new legislation to require sex offenders to register their e-mail and instant-messaging addresses with the National Sex Offender Registry. The information would be made available to sites such as MySpace to compare with user profiles.