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AOL Time Warner has released a new version of Netscape that allows users to suppress pop-up ads, one of the most hated ad formats.

The fact that Internet users will now be able to configure their Netscape 7.01 browsers to prevent the appearance of pop-up ads on their screens means that the advertising format's current popularity could be diminished among Web-advertisers, who claim that it is one of the most effective on-line ad tools.

Despite their apparent popularity among e-advertisers, users are generally less receptive to pop-ups, and the pop-up killing option could help boost the company's feeble share of the browser market. Netscape is the second most popular Web browser after Microsoft's Internet Explorer. However, Netscape has only 3 percent of the market, as opposed to Internet Explorer's 95 percent, according to the latest figures from Dutch Internet statistics company OneStat.com.

The move by Netscape follows a trend in the industry that has seen a number of tech firms and media companies move to block pop-ups, including US ISP Earthlink, which now provides its subscribers with an add-on that blocks pop-up from Internet Explorer. Web site ask Jeeves is another firm that has made the conscious decision to no longer use pop-ups, while AOL's own Web sites have tightened their rules for third party pop-up advertisers in move that is expected to cost the firm USD30 million a year.

Netscape's pop-up blocker comes months after the company's Mozilla group offered a similar feature in its browser. Mozilla, which supplies a free Web browser with the same name, focuses on the open-source development of its browser code and selected features in Mozilla are included in the latest Netscape browser.

Users that activate the pop-up suppression on the latest version of Netscape will find that a number of sites have been excluded from the block. Seven of these 15 exceptions relate to sites that belong to AOL Time Warner, including aol.com, aim.com and cnn.com. However, the consumer has the option of removing the exceptions and applying a blanket ban on pop-up ads.

Interestingly, AOL's decision to cut back on pop-ups comes as the company faces a precipitous drop in line advertising revenues, which are expected to drop by between 40 and 50 percent in 2003. AOL is also finding that the growth rate of its subscribers is starting to level off.

A Nielsen//NetRatings survey from September showed that although pop-ups seem inescapable, the ad format is actually used by less than 10 percent of on-line advertisers. According to that report advertisers purchased and launched more than 11.3 billion pop-up ad impressions (including pop-under ads) during the first seven months of 2002. This constituted just 2 percent of the total on-line advertising market.

Although the ad format was used to a greater extent by niche sites such as on-line directories and games Web sites, the likes of portals, search engines and e-commerce sites avoided it. Nielsen//NetRatings said that around 80 percent of all pop-up advertising was carried out by just 63 companies, with the remainder split between 2,145 companies. The leading pop-up advertiser was X10 with more than one billion of pop-up ads for its wireless video cameras launched during the first half of 2002.

In related news, Netscape announced last week that it was to lay off 60 of its 1,000 workers as part of cutbacks by its owner AOL. America Online says it's cutting a 300 people from its workforce of 18,000. The cutbacks are understood to be part of a cutback program that will cut spending by more than USD100 million.

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