Bills would allow ads on more state agency websites

OLYMPIA — Thousands of times every day someone visits the websites for the state’s parks system and lottery and flips through several online pages.

Now leaders of those two agencies want to reap a little revenue from all those clicks and state lawmakers seem willing to let them try.

Bills moving rapidly toward votes in the House and Senate would allow the agencies to sell ads on their sites, joining the state’s Department of Transportation and a growing crowd of public entities across the country monetizing their websites in this manner.

Click on the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles homepage and you might be greeted by a banner ad for an insurance company. On the site of the Cook County Assessor in Illinois you can find someone to prepare your taxes or satisfy your fix for M&Ms.

Those two along with Washington’s transportation department contract with Municipal Media Solutions of Chicago, an ad broker that specializes in finding advertisers for government websites.

Bob Hoyler, the firm’s president and chief executive officer, said more and more entities are exploring the use of online ads to bring in additional revenues though not making the move rapidly.

“It is pretty much at the beginning,” he said. “I think it will become more of the norm but not overnight,” he said. “Over a period of time it is going to be fairly commonplace.”

Washington eased into it in 2009 by approving a pilot project for the DOT, which at that time recorded 410 million page views a year.

Today, ads are not sold on every page. Rather they appear only on heavily visited ones containing traveler and traffic information. This includes pages for Washington State Ferries.

After a slow start, the program is generating about $8,000 a month, said Tonia Buell, communications manager for the Digital Advertising Pilot Project.

“We’ve been very conservative about our approach,” she said. “It’s worked out pretty well.”

State parks and the lottery would each like to mimic such success though for much different reasons.

Lawmakers have made clear they want to stop using tax dollars to cover the day-to-day operations of the state’s 117 developed parks and a like number of undeveloped properties.

In response, the state Parks and Recreation Commission came up with ways of generating chunks of revenue from online ads and expanded private investments.

Under House Bill 2226 and Senate Bill 6034, the agency could start selling a limited number and type of ads on its website and in its printed materials later this year. A fiscal note prepared for the bill offered no estimates on how much money might be earned.

“We’re pushing parks to raise more money and be self-sufficient. With this bill we’re allowing them a new way to try,” said Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, the prime sponsor. The Senate could vote on the measure this week.

And Pearson said he’s not concerned something inappropriate will suddenly appear.

“It’s a good test and we’ll see. I do know if the advertising doesn’t meet the standards of what people expect, we’ll hear from those people,” he said.

Whereas leaders of state parks are acting out of need, those at the helm of the state lottery are responding to requests from folks who want to advertise.

Under House Bill 2279, Washington’s Lottery could sell Internet ads and charge a fee for use of the lottery logo or trademark starting Sept. 1. It could net about $90,000 a year from the changes, according to a fiscal analysis prepared for lawmakers.

Lottery Director Bill Hanson said at a hearing on the bill last month that he sought the legislation because many corporate retailers which sell tickets ask regularly about running ads on the agency website.

“It is sort of a win-win for everybody,” he said.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, is awaiting a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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