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IT Management : Columns : Executive Tech

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How Many Pop-ups Can a Pop-up Stopper Stop?
February 2, 2004
By Brian Livingston

Brian Livingston There's a war going on between people who want to put pop-up ads on all of your computer screens and those who are determined to stop them.

The battle has just escalated to a new level, with the announcement on Jan. 20 of cutting-edge technology that pops up not just ads but 2 MB, 30-second, full-motion videos that are designed to defeat today's widely-used pop-up blockers.

Where Tomorrow's Pop-Up Videos Will Come From

The source of the new pop-up ads is Unicast, a New York-based advertising firm with additional offices in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and Brazil. Acording to Unicast, the new format will be unlike any Web surfers are used to seeing:

Non-streaming full-screen video. The full-motion ads will not be "streamed" to a user's PC, because the varying download speeds of individual Internet connections can make real-time video seem jerky. Instead, Unicast's 30-frame-per-second video files will be silently downloaded to PCs in the background while the user is viewing a browser window that he or she requested. Only when the entire video has downloaded will it start playing, eliminating rough spots in the delivery.

In your face. Each commercial will have a way for users to click a spot on the screen to end the video. But, this exit mechanism notwithstanding, the presentation will automatically start playing, complete with sound, without the user taking any action.

Pop-up-stopper-proof. The company says it's found a means by which it can circumvent software in users' PCs that automatically blocks pop-up windows that the user didn't specifically request (by clicking a link, for example).

Unicast's video commercials utilize Microsoft's Windows Media Player 9 technology, which is included in recent versions of the Redmond company's graphical operating system. The advertising firm says it has commitments from such top-tier advertisers as Pepsi, Honda, and Warner Brothers, and that the ads have been placed on high-traffic sites such as, ESPN, and MSN.

The Escalating Pop-Up Stopper War

"Only full-screen, broadcast-quality video is capable of delivering the powerful online experience demanded by advertisers," said Unicast CEO Richard Hopple in a statement. If his company has succeeded in developing technology that can fool today's armada of pop-up stoppers into allowing the unsolicited videos to run, your end users may start spending a lot more time watching videos on their PC screens than they do today.

Like many technologies, full-screen videos that run automatically are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, your enterprise might find that this new advertising medium is a perfect way to put your message in front of millions of Web users worldwide. On the other hand, if you're not a big online advertiser, the draining effect on your company's productivity as your employees watch soft-drink commercials throughout the day might give you pause.

In response to such concerns, the makers of pop-up-stopper programs are already working on more effective means to control and prevent such interruptions — whether it's individual users or IT administrators who want to take back control of their screens. I'll devote next week's Executive Tech column to a look at the technical measures the pop-up stoppers are throwing at Unicast's ads.


Whether you're excited by the promising new way you can advertise your products online, or you're horrified at the time that you'll waste watching or shutting down the new breed of ads, the technology can't be ignored.

For more information on the new ad format, visit

Brian Livingston is the editor of Brian's Buzz on Windows and the co-author of "Windows Me Secrets" and nine other books. Send story ideas to him via his contact page.

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