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Ten Goes Online to Boost Ratings
Lara Sinclair, The Australian

NETWORK Ten will launch more than 50 websites based on key television programs for the start of the ratings season next year, but does not expect its digital operations to make a material contribution to its revenues until mid-2008.

Ten's digital strategy, announced yesterday, includes the relaunch of the www.ten.com.au website as the central brand, but hinges on the network's ability to attract online communities to individual TV show websites by offering video, forums and user-generated content.

Ten has been under pressure to announce its digital plans since rival Seven Network joined forces with online player Yahoo to form Yahoo7 in January. Microsoft and Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd formed Ninemsn as a joint venture in 1997.

While Ninemsn is the market leader in online display advertising, Yahoo7 expects to generate revenue of $50-$60 million after 12 months in an internet advertising market that is growing at just under 60 per cent a year.

Ten has attracted advertising to high-traffic individual websites for programs such as Australian Idol and Big Brother, but it has been excluded from some key cross-media advertising deals, such as those announced by media buyer Harold Mitchell with Seven and PBL last month, partly because of the lack of a strong digital strategy.

While both rivals offer a range of web-based services, such as email, search and music downloads, in addition to television and magazine content, Ten's general manager of digital Damian Smith said Ten was taking a more flexible approach to content distribution. "We're not going to do long-term exclusive deals," Mr Smith said.

He said Ten would partner with a range of outside providers, including Google Video and Telstra BigPond, to distribute its content and to provide services, such as in-site instant messaging that would attract audiences to its TV shows.

Mr Smith said Ten could also team up with a partner to bid for one of the federal Government's two proposed new digital licences. "We're open to discussions with a range of parties about participating in those platforms," he said.

While Ninemsn attracted 5.8 million unique visitors to its website (excluding Hotmail and Messenger) last month, according to Nielsen figures, Ten aims to attract about 1.5 million to its network by the end of next year.

The bulk of those will be asked to register to enter members-only content areas, allowing Ten to build a database of customers who will eventually receive targeted advertising messages. "For registered users we'll be tracking behaviour and we'll use behavioural data eventually to (develop) advertising opportunities," Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith said digital revenues were unlikely to exceed 5 per cent of Ten's revenues before the middle of next year. The group, which includes outdoor arm Eye, had revenues of $893 million last financial year.

"In the first 12 to 18 months we're not going to be a material revenue contributor," he said.