Microsoft Eyes Mobile Ads

The software maker's move is the latest in the hotly competitive space.

The land rush that is online advertising is getting more competitive with each passing day, as top-tier technology vendors grapple to find ways to get a larger share of the pie.

It also is getting the attention of lawmakers, particularly those being asked to give their OK to Google's plans to spend $3.1 billion to buy DoubleClick, which would wed two of the largest players in the online ad space.

Microsoft Dec. 10 began offering banner and text advertising on its MSN Mobile portal in the United States, the latest move by a company looking to expand its slice of the online ad market by targeting cell phone users. Like the rest of the services and content on MSN Mobile-which lets users access Hotmail, instant messaging, search and news-ads will be tailored for easy, comfortable Web browsing via handheld devices.

The news presents a new challenge for Yahoo, which began offering mobile ads in the United States last year and overseas this past fall. Google and AOL are also looking to chomp on as much of this emerging, multibillion-dollar market as possible.

While the market for online ads for desktop PCs is maturing, the mobile ad market remains the next green field, one that is fraught with challenges. Consumers have opposed ads on their mobile phones, fearing the promotions, which come in text, banner ads and pop-ups, will clutter the tiny screens on their iPhones, BlackBerrys and other Web-enabled gadgets.

While innovators in the market are doing all they can to beat the technological obstacles to adapting content for handheld gadgets, mobile ad providers face challenges from phone carriers that want to control what goes out on their phones and services. Wireless carriers, such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T, thwart the proliferation of mobile ads by keeping mobile data rates high.

The fear of ceding too much control is evident in the opposition the carriers showed to the Federal Communications Commission when Google asked for open access rules and the right to bid on the 700MHz spectrum as a noncarrier this January.

Microsoft's bid to enable advertising on mobile devices, coming on the heels of Google's Android mobile operating stack Nov. 5, is the latest step toward making the mobile ad market a reality and not just a glimmer in online ad providers' eyes.

For its part, widget maker Clearspring Technologies on Dec. 10 said it will launch an ad network to help its more than 70 media publishing customers make money from their content. Geared for social networks, start pages and blogs, the Widget Ad Network serves ads within publishers' widgets, which are mini applications designed to engender user interaction on Web sites. Showing the ads in widgets, which pop up on Web sites, is an alternative to showing them as banner ads, which tend to get ignored on social network sites. Advertisers believe using widgets to market their products will get more people to view and interact with the advertisement.

Clearspring, which will roll out the Widget Ad Network in the first quarter of 2008, is not the first vendor to try this. Google began offering a beta of Google Gadget Ads Sept. 19 to help advertisers target audiences.

However, the space continues to get the attention of federal lawmakers, thanks in large part to the proposed Google- DoubleClick deal, which is fueling privacy concerns. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, complained that Google officials were trying to avoid having House attorneys visit its Mountain View, Calif., campus for a first-hand briefing on Google's privacy policies. ??