Sponsors pay for play on FirstLook

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Firstlook.com, a new preview entertainment Web site backed by potent venture capital, is launching an unusual program that gives away rewards from major consumer marketers.

FirstLook awards gift certificates to consumers who vote on songs sampled on the site. Featured marketers include Amazon.com, AMC Theaters, Best Buy, Blockbuster, General Cinema, McDonald's Corp., Pizza Hut and Tower Records. Gift certificates can be redeemed for merchandise in the incentive program, officially launching Feb. 25.

Unlike other music sites, which either offer music from unknown bands for free or sell songs from established artists, FirstLook is positioning itself as a portal where consumers can sample music from a range of popular and upcoming artists--say, by Alanis Morissette, Madonna or a new group, Guster.

Launched last September, FirstLook is backed by Idealab, the Net incubator behind eToys and search engine GoTo.com; and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the venture capital firm that backed Amazon.com.


On its own marketing front, FirstLook.com just switched agencies to Organic, San Francisco, from Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif. It has a $10 million to $15 million marketing campaign planned for 2000, with TV set for the end of the year.

FirstLook is a promotional tool for Internet music retailers, record labels or other music sites. By using a sampling model, rather than letting consumers download entire music tracks, FirstLook doesn't need to deal with the record companies and artists that insist on receiving compensation.

Instead, each time consumers click on a song, they are directed to the sponsor's site where they can purchase music.

At FirstLook, music companies, in effect, sponsor an artist. They pay FirstLook each time a consumer samples a song. For instance, SonicNet.com, a music site owned by Viacom, sponsors the Backstreet Boys song, "I Want it That Way," paying 13 cents for each sampled song.

"It's a completely new approach in leveraging advertising dollars within an Internet context," said Rand Bleimeister, founder and president-CEO of FirstLook. "We don't think of ourselves as a music site. We are a preview marketing network."


Consumers are told of this pricing structure in a note under each listing that says, for instance, "Advertiser Cost $0.13."

"We are completely upfront," said Mr. Bleimeister.

Companies that pay 15¢ are listed above those paying 13¢, giving the top spenders the best real estate. That model is similar to Idea-lab's GoTo, which sells listings on its search engine, except that FirstLook is more forthright in telling users how advertisers pay for play.

Advertisers on the site include Arista Records, Columbia Records, Epic Records and Giant Records.

Mr. Bleimeister argues this ad model is more efficient for music companies than banner ads. For instance, he says if music companies pay an average $10 per thousand impressions for a banner, they can get a typical 1% click-through rate. The effective cost is then $1 per click.

"We can achieve the same thing with a more targeted audience and it's a fraction of a dollar--10 cents or 20 cents a click," he said.

Soon, FirstLook.com will be moving into other entertainment sampling in which consumers will be able to sample video selections via the site.

Copyright February 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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