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New advertising scheme offers free internet to Saudi households

Saudi Arabian firm to launch innovative concept of targeted internet advertising

Up to one million households in Saudi Arabia are to be given free internet access as part of a new business model that could revolutionise the Middle East advertising industry.

A new company called Media 20-20 will provide free ASDL access to households taking part in the government's Home Computing Project, as long as they agree to allow advertising on their screens.

Using the same technology that is used to control corporate PCs centrally, to upgrade operating systems, for example, the company will replace the screensaver and wallpaper on each participating PC with advertisements. Saudi firm Wamad is behind the venture, named Media 20-20, which is headquartered in Dubai and uses Empirum software from Matrix42.

Moses Kuria, chief operating officer at Wamad, told ACN: "Today using a WAN or a LAN you can control corporate PCs. By the same process we are trying to cover the mass market. It means that using our technology, when somebody hooks up to the internet we are able to control their computer in the same way as we control it through the corporate network.”

"That means that we are turning the computer into media.

“We are working with companies like Saatchi & Saatchi in Saudi Arabia whereby they check the viability.

"Today you have to go to [websites] to get the adverts. With our technology you don't have to go to any websites, as long as you are online."

Every person who wishes to take advantage of free internet access will be required to complete a registration form, meaning that Media 20-20 will be able to offer targeted advertising aimed at particular demographics.

"We have a specific technology that's able to submit the content according to the profile," said Kuria. "You're seeing something different to everyone else. A doctor might see adverts for Johnson & Johnson, and because you are a builder you might see adverts for building materials. So we really will have some impact on the advertising industry."

He added: "Today, you cannot tell me how many people I am reaching in my advertising, there's no measurement. With our technology we are able to assure advertisers measurements to the last number. We can give details of who was online, who was offline."

In addition, the firm will also be able to offer maintenance and support remotely, on payment of a subscription fee.

"You can sign up for additional services," said Kuria. "You have given these one million computers to the people in Saudi. Do they know how to maintain a computer? What about troubleshooting, what about support?

“People can sign up to say not only do we want the free internet but we also want to be supported."

Kuria gave assurances that the company would not misuse its access to computers taking part in the scheme. The company has plans to extend the concept to other markets in the Middle East and beyond using local partners if the scheme is successful.

The service will be launched at Gitex later this month and is expected to begin operation on January 1, 2007. Saudi Arabia’s e-government scheme will be one of the first advertisers.

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