NET RECKONING

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Boom or bust, asks our Interactive Media and Marketing Special Report, published as a supplement to today's Advertising Age. It refers to the dot-coms' ad spending mania. We're sure of the boom, and nearly as sure of the bust.

Many factors suggest the easy money gushing to the media from dot-coms next year will give way to a dose of virtual reality. There are too many narrowly focused, indistinguishable sites. The distance between (marginal) revenues and (huge) losses is startling. Investors will wake up and demand accountability, ending subsidies for losing ideas.

It didn't take special talent this year for a dot-com to get funded, for an agency to snare a Web client or for the media to win an ad schedule. Dot-coms will pour some $2 billion into ads this quarter alone and are on track to spend an incredible $7.4 billion over the next year (absent a big shakeout). The money has been nice, but now comes a real Y2K problem. Investors that aren't seeing a return before too much longer will stop the flow of funds. It's a good bet many of today's dot-com advertisers will vanish.

There's no question the dot-com ad category is real, even if current ad levels are not. Dot-com survivors will need to spend smartly, not just heavily, on advertising to build for the long haul. Their agencies and media partners should prepare for the day -- coming soon -- when it will take thorough and disciplined

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