NETCOUNT TO OFFER FREE TRACKING;INTERNET AUDITOR TOUTS APPLES-TO-APPLES TRAFFIC COMPARISONS

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NetCount is banking on a combination of Hollywood pizzazz and aggressive marketing to make its long-awaited Internet tracking service stand out in a crowded marketplace.

After a three-week, nearly $500,000 blitz of teaser ads in trade publications, direct mailings to media buyers and letters to Webmasters, NetCount today takes the wraps off its products (http://www.netcount.com). The company plans to offer basic tracking services for free, a first in the industry.

Los Angeles-based NetCount will charge media buyers for industry reports and Web site owners for more sophisticated tracking of their site or competitors' sites. The company believes its business strategy will enable it to build a deep database of information, enabling apples-to-apples comparisons of Web site traffic.

NetCount has struck an alliance with Internet access provider BBN Planet, which will offer NetCount services to its WebAdvantage customers. Advertising agencies TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., and Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, will test the system.

Any site measured under NetCount's basic system will get weekly reports detailing how many Distinct Points of Origin (essentially IP addresses) accessed the site and how many Page Information Transfers (the number of pages that load completely into a user's computer) were completed.

Charter prices for agencies that sign up by Nov. 30 start at $250 per month. Web site owners wishing more information as part of the NetCount Plus service pay anywhere from $125 to $2,400 per month, depending on the number of hits their site gets in a month and how many reports are generated.

NetCount's first products will not track users or visits, considered by many to be essential information. Instead, the company will focus on providing tools for agencies to compare sites and for Web site owners to assess their site's performance relative to others.

Agencies that buy into the service will be able to see traffic information for participating sites and also generate industry-specific or custom reports. Web site owners will get weekly reports of their site's traffic as well as access to custom reports on competitors.

"We're trying to provide a service where people finally can compare traffic from site to site," said NetCount Chairman Paul Grand.

NetCount was formed earlier this year by Mr. Grand, who also founded Digital Planet, a specialist in creating Web sites for Hollywood studios.

Much of NetCount's marketing muscle comes from Robin D. Richards, president-CEO of NetCount and of Los Angeles database marketing company Lexi International.

NetCount considers its biggest competition to be Internet Profiles Corp., the San Francisco company that was one of the first offering Web tracking (see related story on this page).

"So far they've been a lot of talk and a lot of blitz," said Ariel Poler, I/Pro's president. "I'm like, what is this, the telephone wars?"

Assessing sites by looking at IP addresses is "a method of counting that is almost as meaningless as hits," Mr. Poler said, because many users could be accessing the Web through one IP address.

Mr. Grand returned fire, saying, "We could take our DPOs and segment them into 30-minute visits and call them users," a reference to I/Pro's use of algorithms to translate hits on a site to users.

Neither side will be able to declare itself a winner anytime soon. But NetCount will likely generate significant trial because its basic service is free.

Laughs Larry Postaer, exec VP-creative director at Rubin Postaer: "We'll take advantage of their free offers for sure."

"They've got a real shot at getting many, many people in the game, just like Netscape," said Dick Hackenberg, who oversees interactive media at TBWA Chiat/Day, referring to Netscape's free distribution of its browser software via the Internet.

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