$70 Mil. ISP Contacts Shops

DALLAS Internet service provider NetZero is contacting agencies about its advertising account, sources said.

The company spent nearly $70 million in domestic measured media last year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Kansas City, Mo.-based independent Bernstein-Rein handles the business, and Steve Bernstein, the agency’s chief operating officer, said, “Our relationship is not in jeopardy at all. In fact, it is expanding.”

He did not elaborate, and a client representative declined comment.

NetZero is a unit of United Online in Woodland Hills, Calif., which also owns other Web-based businesses such as Classmates, Juno and MyPoints. United Online also markets VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) telephone service through NetZero.

Sources said no search consultant is involved, and that NetZero issued proposal requests to an undisclosed group of agencies last week.

The search comes one year after United Online named Matt Wisk executive vice president and chief marketing officer. Wisk, previously CMO at TiVo, was named Brandweek‘s 2000 Grand Marketer of the Year and was awarded a gold Effie award for advertising effectiveness in 2001.

Before joining TiVo, Wisk was CMO at Herbalife International, a nutritional products company with $1 billion in revenue. Prior to joining Herbalife, Wisk worked at Nokia for nine years, where he was vp, marketing.

Last week, NetZero launched an effort to market VoIP services through the Best Buy chain of electronics stores. As a part of the agreement, Best Buy stores are distributing CDs giving customers the opportunity to sign up for NetZero Voice Unlimited for $9.95 per month, $5 off the regular price of the service.

As a provider of dial-up service, NetZero competes with America Online, Earthlink and others. As of May, about 72 percent of U.S. homes connect to the Web via broadband rather than dial-up, according to Nielsen Net Ratings. While that poses a challenge for the dial-ups, broadband increases usage of VoIP, another service from NetZero.

In June, NetZero began marketing Private Phone, a service that provides a disposable phone number. Customers sign up online, selecting the area code and number. People who call the new number are automatically forwarded to voicemail. The recipient gets an e-mail or text message that can be retrieved online or via phone. Customers can have multiple phone numbers, but the voice mailbox holds only 10 messages at a time, according to the provider.

This story updates an item posted earlier today with additional details and Bernstein-Rein’s comments.