BULGARIAN-STYLE INTERNET

by Galina Ganeva

Heavy-hitters Nielsen Online and Gemius weigh in on Bulgarian websites and advertising revenue

The global information network covers the whole world and is theoretically blind to national borders. However, domestic markets inevitably have unique quirks. This means you can't approach all local markets in the same way. Bulgarian cyberspace is no exception – you'll find a few big players, as well as many smaller fry fighting for a cut of the tempting profits from online advertising. And the battle has just begun – experts estimate that online advertising income will only increase in the coming months and years.

The time is ripe for change. The Bulgarian Internet was measured for the first time, and not just by anybody, but by Nielsen Online and Gemius – the Lewis and Clark of the Internet world. They used objective criteria to discover how big the "big guys" really are, what kinds of users they attract and where they stand in Bulgaria's complex online ecosystem. This information is important for site owners to attract more advertisers, as well as for entrepreneurs seeking the most effective and cost-efficient ways of promoting their products and services on the web. The appearance of these big names on the Bulgarian scene and the unbiased data they offer will not only increase faith in the new media, but will also give advertisers yet one more reason to choose the Internet as a means of reaching its target audience.

According to Nielsen Online's April data, Bulgaria's online leader was Netinfo.BG, whose most popular sites include the entertainment hub vbox7.com, the abv.bg e-mail service, the news portal netinfo.bg and the sports site sportni.bg. Gemius, for its part, measured the presence of another large Bulgarian web company, Dir.BG. This data indicates that in April the portal racked up more than 1.2 million unique hits, most to its online store, market.dir.bg, as well as to other sections such as financial, banks.dir.bg; and news, life.dir.bg and dnes.dir.bg. Nielsen awarded second place to the Investor.BG group of sites, which includes the social networking site aha.bg, the portal start.bg, the newsy dnes.bg, the online photo gallery snimka.bg, the informational teenproblem.net and the business-oriented investor.bg. Rezon Media came in third with its online car market mobile.bg, while the Atol Media was fourth with its specialised dating and social networking sites, including elmaz.com, sibir.bg and atol.bg.

The data released by the two Internet research agencies are difficult to compare and do not exhaustively represent the state of the Internet market in Bulgaria. This is due to the absence of certain major players in both studies – Gemius overlooks NetInfo.BG, while Dir.BG is missing from Nielsen Online's survey.

Looking at the most popular sites worldwide, it becomes clear that – with a few exceptions – they represent the so-called Web 2.0 services. Similar sites also exist in Bulgaria, however, they are not yet sufficiently popular and in most cases are simply knockoffs of Western originals. This is one sphere with serious development potential – the creation of a new generation of innovative web services that will win over local users. The motivating factor behind changes in the Internet market in Bulgaria is the fact that the number of users who avoid traditional media such as newspapers, television and radio in favour of online information and entertainment is growing. What's more, these are precisely the folks who make up one of the most sought-after target categories for advertisers – in most cases, well-paid young professionals of an average age of around 30. To reach them, advertising messages have to blaze new trails, taking advantage of modern technology like the web, as well as even more cutting-edge methods such as Bluetooth connectivity and interaction via QR barcodes.

Bulgaria's online advertising market, although still small, is constantly growing. According to insider estimates, it attracted around 12-13 million leva in investments over the past year, or between three and five percent of the country's entire advertising market. While this amount is miniscule in comparison with the sums paid for advertising in print media and on television, forecasts nevertheless predict that in the coming years the web will carve out an ever-increasing share. Experts see the online ad market to grow by 50 percent over the next three to four years. Web-savvy companies that figure out how to exploit the Internet's almost endless interactive possibilities will certainly enjoy success in the coming years. The web is a dynamic place where things happen faster than in other media. A new kind of player is needed to understand its mechanisms – a player who constantly has his finger on the pulse of world trends and is the first to introduce them here, too. Emerging tendencies include the replacement of "impression"-style advertisements (the most popular in Bulgaria at the moment) with click counts. You can also expect the process of consolidation of Bulgarian sites to continue, in which larger companies acquire those with development potential that would benefit from a financial boost and good management.

Although Bulgaria's cyber-borders are not as obvious as the Great Firewall of China, the country's Internet market nevertheless has its unique features. Now that big fish like Nielson Online and Gemius are keeping an eye on the small but ever-expanding pond that is the Bulgarian web, we can expect dynamic development in the years to come as players struggle to carve out their niche

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