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ENGAGE TO DEBUT NEW AD SERVER

As reported by Christopher Saunders; while fiscal issues -- like the Andover, Mass., based firm's potential delisting from NASDAQ and a pending buyout from parent CMGI -- will continue to loom at least for the present, Engage will address a number of competitive shortcomings with version 6.0 of the AdManager ASP.

For one thing, the service -- which is branded AdBureau in its standalone, software variant -- now supports "surround sessions," an advertising format that first debuted on New York Times Digital's NYTimes.com.

To date, only a few servers like 24/7 Real Media -- which handles serving for NYTD -- have made serious inroads into serving surround sessions, though other players, such as industry leader DoubleClick say that their systems can be configured to do the same, but add they have yet to see a real demand from clients.

Nevertheless, the format, which Engage styles "eSessions," has received praise from groups like the Online Publishers Association, and research from Dynamic Logic has suggested that campaigns run in NYT.com's sessions resulted in a positive -- and sizable -- branding increases for clients AstraZeneca and American Airlines.

Engage's AdManager 6.0 also features a series of improvements designed to make trafficking rich media ads easier -- an enhancement that seeks to capitalize on traditional advertisers' growing taste for audio, video and animation embedded into online ads. So far, through its rich media certification program, the company has approved Macromedia FlashMX for use in its server.

The rich media additions, which build in support for tracking interaction in Flash movies, also put the server on par with other firms' offerings. DoubleClick, for instance, added improved rich media support to its own DART server last year.

These rich media features also incorporate support for future advertising formats, since AdManager -- as several competing offerings have for some time -- also features an extensible architecture that can incorporate as-yetdeveloped advertising types.

"We've had the ability since mid-1999 to work with streaming audio and video," said Jordan Shultz, Engage's vice president of corporate business development. "What we're doing now is trying to make it a lot easier for folks who are trafficking the rich media to use it. We want to take the mystery out of rich media -- make it mainstream."

Additionally, the server also integrates more closely with Engage's ProfileServer, a customer data mining and profile-building service that at one point had been sold as a separate, standalone offering. Now, ProfileServer will be available as an add-on to AdManager/AdBureau, with new enhancements that can incorporate data from marketers' existing consumer databases.

The product also offers automatic optimization based on the number of clicks received by a campaign creative; automatic browser, language and MIME type detection; and easier methods to regulate ad delivery, so that multiple ads from the same campaign either appear or do not appear on the same page.

While the update will help Engage better meet growing market demand for emerging ad serving in areas like surround sessions and rich media, spokespeople say the 6.0 release is primarily focused on simply helping publishers boost CPMs while reducing ad serving expenses.

"The basic goal is to help publishers to create more valuable inventory to sell," Shultz said. "The auto-optimization capability is obviously one way of looking at that, while productizing the surround session concept is another. Our enhancements that we've made to our profiling capabilities will help publishers to be able to understand their audiences and to target profiles in new areas that's a great way to create more valuable inventory."

"In terms of holding costs down, you can go to any number of Web sites and they'll talk about rich media advertising, and about the turnaround it will take to get that up and running. That's an obvious clue that it takes effort to test and work. Our enhancements make it easier for traffic managers to be more efficient at that."

Engage spokespeople said future versions of the software will incorporate frequency capping by format, bandwidth capping to limit the amount of ads with large file sizes sent per page, and more rich media templates.

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