Network: New Media: My day in PowerPoint hell with the bright sparks from IPC Electric

LOATHE AS I am to attend launch parties, I found myself drawn to the one for IPC Electric, the new media subsidiary of magazine publisher IPC. Unusually for such an event, IPC mistakenly decided that people wanted to know all about IPC Electric, rather than turn up for the champagne, and allowed two irritatingly overconfident men to give a painful PowerPoint presentation, lauding how ground-breaking and fantastic the products from the new division would be.

Given the sauna-like temperature in the room (one would have thought the Hemple would have air-conditioning), it was impossible to concentrate on the presentation. My lasting impression was how confident IPC Electric is about barging into unchartered waters with a fistful of cash (pounds 25m) from IPC's shareholders.

The expectations are high. Anything that falls short of being a "fantastic product" will no doubt be subjected to widespread industry criticism, given Electric's "we're going to lead the way" approach.

Don't get me wrong, I think Electric has the opportunity to do some good things with its investment and in-house talent, but now it must keep to its word, particularly if it is looking to float next year. PR- driven announcements are all well and good, but if you don't live up to the expectations you set yourself (eg, Boo.com, which still hasn't launched its site owing to "last minute server problems"), you can end up the laughing stock of the industry.

So what is IPC Electric planning to do with its pounds 25m? Nothing entirely new. The idea is to launch a number of different networks based around existing key franchises, which, according to its head, Julian Hardy, "will each have a superior presence, head and shoulders above the competition". IPC, with its portfolio of women's titles such as Marie Claire, Living Etc and Mizz is in a prime position to cash in the burgeoning online women's market and is expected to do so by creating umbrella brands, WomenElectric.co.uk for instance, which will carry both off and online content and may even provide Internet access.

Reports suggest that IPC may even be looking to create more generic sector- specific sites at the expense of its existing brand sites (NME.com, Uploaded.com and Countrylife.co.uk), focused on music, lads, TV, home interest, leisure and sport. With pounds 4m to spend on a marketing campaign and an estimated 45 per cent of the UK population reading an IPC title every week, it is safe to say that it will be difficult to avoid IPC's Electric muscle once it reaches full pelt.

If the competition don't get their strategies sorted out before this onslaught, they could end up being left in the shade. While Emap recently relaunched Newwomanonline.co.uk and through Metro runs sites for FHM and Q magazine, it is hanging back on developing sites for Heat and Mojo, preferring to use the domains as promotional vehicles rather than e-commerce drivers. Conde Nast is taking a leaf out of its US cousin's book and developing UK localised versions of some of the more popular US sector-specific sites, such as food site Epicurious.com, Swoon, which offers insight on personal relationships, and PHYS, a fitness site. Last out of the starting blocks could be Hearst subsidiary the National Magazine Company, whose portfolio includes Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping. I've been hearing rumours that it wants to set up a UK version of its successful US operation Women.com since March, and yet still no word or sign of development. Is anyone going to give Electric a run for its money? No wonder it is so smug.

At a website near you

Banner advertising dominates Internet ad spend, accounting for about 83 per cent (pounds 16.1m) of the total marketing money spent online in 1998. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the only other models used on UK websites are interstitials and section sponsorships. Although banners have existed only for about four years, they have become a boring format despite all the efforts of late to funk them up with video, audio and rich media. Which is why the debates about the death of the banner and all-time low click-through rates rage on and finding a new format for online advertising is well overdue.

Internet newcomer iWeb could have hit upon a solution with its "always- on" ad box, iNotes. iWeb's directors equate iNotes to highly targeted outdoor media billboards that approach the user, rather than the other way round. The ad box, which floats around the user's screen streaming messages no matter which site the user visits, could give the static banner a run for its money.

The key benefit of iNotes is that it can stream targeted audio, animated and video messages to users while the web page is loading and it requires no downloading. How can it do this? It gets together with Internet service providers and uses the personal information given during the sign-up process to target by location and interests.

I can just see it now. I'm casually browsing through my favourite sites and I get a message from Ticketmaster about what is showing in my local cinema, and I can opt to view preview clips while I am waiting for the site I have selected to download. An interesting concept that could fuel the move towards toll-free access and encourage local companies to up their online advertising spend.

Grant Mitchell gets wired

The rumour machine is safely back on track with news that Ross Kemp, aka Grant Mitchell from EastEnders, wants to become an Internet entrepreneur by teaming up with two ex-News International chaps and PR guru Matthew Freud. Each is understood to be investing more than pounds 1m in the venture and no doubt the venture capital guys are holding power breakfasts even as you read this. But what are they going to do? Sources suggest a bit of everything, from entertainment and personal finance to millennium- related sites.

The opportunity is there and with Kemp as a partner, who needs a PR campaign to generate interest, or even a launch party for that matter?

Separately, watch out for Freud's new e-commerce venture, Outpatients.com, a gimmick-oriented delivery service from the restaurant Pharmacy, expected to launch in the next few weeks.

amyv@qpp.co.uk

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