Warner Bros. Online Partners With Adware Company

Controversial adware company 180solutions at the end of last month quietly began offering streams of two shows distributed by Warner Bros. Online. The shows--the soap opera "Deception" and the animated show "Medical Island"--were created specifically for the Web.

Both programs are available online exclusively on 180solutions' consumer site, Zango.com. Visitors to the site can only view the shows if they agree to download the company's ad-serving software, which serves up to six pop-up ads daily, based on Web-surfing behavior.

Later this month, Warner Bros. Online intends to add a third program--an aminated show, produced by Warner Bros.--to the Zango.com offerings, said Darryl LaRue, vice president-sales at Warner Bros. Online.

The deal between Warner Bros. Online and 180solutions is coming to light at a time when 180solutions is increasingly under attack. In January, the nonprofit group Center for Democracy and Technology filed a complaint against the company with the Federal Trade Commission, charging that 180solutions doesn't adequately police its affiliates. The nonprofit maintains that some 180solutions affiliates install the company's adware on consumers' computers without first obtaining their informed consent. 180solutions also faces at least one class-action lawsuit stemming from similar allegations.

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The Federal Trade Commission also is critical of adware companies. One commissioner, Jonathan Leibowitz, said earlier this year that the agency is considering publicly naming the brands that use adware to market their products. "A little shaming here might go a long way," Leibowitz said at a conference arranged by the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Some watchdogs also have said that adware companies don't offer consumers enough programs or services of sufficient value to justify serving them with pop-up ads.

But 180solutions maintains that the professionally created video clips mark an attempt to offer consumers more valuable incentives to download its adware. York Baur, executive vice president of business development at 180solutions, said the idea behind the project was to offer "top-shelf content produced for the Web" to consumers, and also to share in its ad monetization with Warner Bros. Online.

So far, 180solutions has made three episodes of "Deception" available on Zango.com, as well as on about 50 sites within its publisher network, Baur said. Each episode of "Deception," starring "Days of Our Lives" veteran Roark Critchlow and produced by his production company, lasts between three and five minutes. The series is aimed at women between the ages 35 and 54, and will contain 30 episodes total, with new episodes appearing on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. "Medical Island," aimed at males 18 to 24, will consist of 10 episodes total. 180solutions will have exclusive Web rights to distribute the shows for 120 days.

Warner Bros. and 180solutions have been quietly working together for almost a year, mainly in the gaming space, but the relationship had been kept under wraps.

Eric Howes, an adware and spyware expert who works for Sunbelt Software, said Tuesday he found it "stunning" that Warner Bros. would ally itself with an adware company. "It's really disappointing that a company with the kind of reputation that Warner Bros. enjoys would climb in bed with a company that has numerous complaints against it."

LaRue said Warner Bros. is working with 180solutions as part of a broad initiative to distribute content digitally. "There's a bunch of different models out there," LaRue said, adding that Warner Bros. Online was eager to experiment with new ways to monetize content. For instance, the shows on 180solutions also will be available on Sprint telephones, where they will be supported by pre-roll ads, LaRue said.

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