Sweep This Idea Under the Rug

Savvy television viewers don’t need calendars. If a doctor on ER is on death’s door, if the last single Friends hook up, if Victoria’s Secret models are jumping out of airplanes, it’s probably sweeps month.

Sweeps month, of course, sets advertising rates for the year. So networks and affiliates go all out to air blockbuster shows, introduce cliffhanger plot twists and pull the stupidest stunts in an intense effort to boost ratings. Now, some people want to bring this idea to the Web.

The folks behind the Webby Awards, namely the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, have teamed with Web tracking firm Nielsen//NetRatings (Nasdaq: NTRT) to create what they see as the Internet version of sweeps. NetRatings will track traffic during May, and the top-performing sites in terms of traffic will win Webby awards.

Second Thoughts

From a big-picture point of view, this almost seems like a good idea. The people who want the Internet to be as profitable as it is popular have long rooted for the medium to become more like TV.

But a closer look at the plan reveals its flaws. First of all, doesn’t this idea fly in the face of the original intent of the Webby awards by rewarding quantity over quality? What does volume have to do with anything other than eyeballs and advertising dollars?

More worrisome still is that the online sweeps period likely willincite some pretty silly behavior from Web sites vying for the recognition the award would bring.

How silly? God only knows what May could bring if the idea catches on….

Under the Rug

Imagine this: Hoping to sweep into the first spot, Amazon uses the month to unveil its newest twist on its free shipping offer: Free delivery — by CEO Jeff Bezos — on all orders over US$999. What a photo opportunity: Bezos lugging an armful of digital video cameras and DVD players up to a waiting customer’s front door.

EBay declares be-kind-to-members month. The always-smiling Meg Whitman announces that all listing fees are being waived. In addition, a ban on links to outside merchant sites is lifted, and sellers are encouraged to promote their own businesses across the eBay property, free of charge.

Then, exactly halfway through the month, eBay reverses itself without notice, causing millions of people to return to the site to post flaming messages on its community feedback pages. Once again, eBay proves that no one does it better.

Hurry, Hurry

Yahoo! tries to repeat what it called the success of its three-day sale. But to ratchet things up a notch, the portal schedules random three-second-long sales throughout the month. Don’t go to sleep, or you might miss the chance to get a DVD for five bucks!

MSN, hoping as ever to keep pace with its main rival, offers a truly original promotion. Somewhere on MSN, the service announces, it has hidden information that may incriminate parent company Microsoft in its ongoing antitrust battle. The right combination of click-through actions could result in a pop-up window that will make you the star witness for the Department of Justice.


Not wanting to be left out, pokes fun at itself by offering anyone with a Web site the chance to host a Homestore banner ad. In exchange, Homestore will host your banner. The bonus: You can watch on live Webcam as Homestore’s giggling accountants record the ad barter as hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Resilient e-tailer goes the wacky self-promotion route, too. Using its new international shipping feature, it boxes up founder and two-time owner Scott Blum and ships him somewhere. Track him through as he circles the globe, and be the first to guess where he’ll land.

In the end, of course, nothing changes. Sweeps month comes and goes. The top sites remain exactly the same. And the Web becomes a little more like television.

As the saying goes: Be careful what you wish for.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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