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[London] Softbank Interactive Marketing is opening a European division this month to sell advertising on the Internet, a market that has barely begun to develop in Europe. The company started last April in the U.S., where it now has offices in seven cities, and formed a joint venture in late 1996 with Japanese ad agency Dentsu to cover Asia.

In the U.S., Softbank Interactive Marketing handles ad sales for the Web sites of AT&T Business Network, NBC, Netscape and Playboy.

"We're looking to take on Europe-specific sites with high potential for pan-European and global traffic," said Gordon Simpson, director of European operations. "We want to sign three to six sites in the first year; we're in serious talks with four or five sites now."

The number of Internet users in Europe is growing by an estimated 5% each month, but ad revenues from Internet Web sites are tiny and stem mostly from sponsorship and competitions rather than from banner advertising.

"If it reaches double figures [in millions of dollars], I'd be surprised," Mr. Simpson said. "All [European] sites are at the very beginning of the development stage now."

Parent Softbank Corp. is Japan's biggest distributor of software for personal computers and owns U.S. computer magazine company Ziff-Davis Publishing as well as the COMDEX computer exhibition business.

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