After much speculation within the industry and six months of a beta test, Softbank Interactive Marketing will launch a network of sites on which it will sell advertising.
"Advertisers want a single point of contact" for multiple sites, said Caroline Vanderlip, chief executive of Softbank, which is majority-backed by Japanese technology conglomerate Softbank Holdings.
The Softbank Network will launch today with 43 sites subdivided by content into seven smaller networks, though advertisers can also make a run-of-network buy. The seven categories are: arts and entertainment, finance and investing, games, sports, travel, college and technology.
Beyond this type of targeting, ads can be bought by browser type, daypart and domain, among other specifications.
Among the sites that Softbank will represent are: HotMail, weather site Intellicast, GolfWeb, Ancient Sites, financial sites Briefing.com and PC Quote, Music Boulevard, news site NandoNet, ZDNet (also owned by Softbank Holdings) and Princeton Review.
The network will be sold by the same 50 sales executives on staff at Softbank now. Sales reps are distinguished by their expertise with technology or consumer marketers. The same people who have sold Softbank's technology sites in the past will now market the technology group of sites from the network as well. Vanderlip insisted advertisers will not be allowed to cherry-pick sites from within the network.
The sites themselves may have the option of graduating to become a leading site on the network, according to Vanderlip. Softbank regularly reevaluates the sites it represents individually, limiting the number of sites to 10.
Softbank's move has been rumored since its purchase of Australian network technology firm Web Wide Media in February this year.
The network's targeting capabilities are part of the reason CyberSites, which produces Ancient Sites, decided to join the Softbank Network. "We think [targeting] is going to allow for us to command a higher CPM than if we went with a rep firm selling us on more of a gross impressions basis," said Lewis Goldman, vice president of marketing and sales at CyberSites.