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Mobile phone firms test pop-up ads

Start-ups snub Microsoft & Google's ad strategy

Forming those close partnerships with operators could present a problem, because some industry experts say that the major operators aren't interested in the pop-up type of mobile advertising.

"I don't think we're going to see that coming from tier-one carriers any time soon," said Jeff Janer, until recently the chief marketing officer of Third Screen, a mobile advertising company that AOL announced it would buy in May. Janer left Third Screen in late July in search of a new startup opportunity.

Third Screen mainly delivers banner ads but has the capability to offer idle screen ads, he said. Operators are worried that such ads will annoy users, he said. "If you ask someone if they want mobile ads without qualifying it, the answer is clearly no. So I think they are very concerned about subscriber churn," he said. Churn refers to the rate at which mobile customers switch operators.

Third Screen finds the 30 million figure of US mobile web users promising. Its advertising network can reach half those users, a "significant" number that is finally encouraging advertisers to go from trial projects to true campaigns, Janer said.

A Google executive wouldn't give a definitive answer about the search giant's interest in mobile pop-up ads, but he seemed to be leaning against it. "We have looked at a variety of models," said Dilip Venkatachari, director of product management responsible for mobile monetisation efforts at Google. "The formats we deploy now and in the future are all around things we think are least intrusive and deliver value."

Google already delivers ads along with search results on mobile phones and is testing AdSense for mobile so that mobile web page operators can place ads on their sites.

The backers of the pop-up model say the big online players will come around to the idea. "I think they will become interested in what we do," Mobile Posse's Jackson said. "Typically innovation doesn't happen at the big organisations."

Presumably, if a powerhouse like Google or AOL started backing the pop-up idea, a major operator might consider it, thus enabling Mobile Posse to deliver ads to a large number of mobile users.

Jackson points to AOL's recent purchase of Third Screen. Third Screen had been around for several years before AOL bought it. The pop-up companies have only just been founded and as they grow and interest in mobile ads grows, they'll attract notice, he said. "I think if you showed this to [former Yahoo CEO] Terry Semel or [AOL CEO] Randy Falco, I think they'd get interested," he said.

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