UK start-up Metronomy has joined forces with IBM to offer free PCs to UK consumers in exchange for watching 90 minutes of advertising every month.
Users must watch three minutes of advertising for every hour the PC is used. And households will have to use their PC for a minimum of 30 hours per month, which equates to an average household of four each using the PC for 15 minutes every day.
The computer must also connect to the internet at least once a month to confirm that the ads have been watched.
Metronomy chief executive John Thornhill has big plans for the scheme, likening it to the impact of pay-as-you-go on sales of mobile handsets.
"We have a projection of getting two million households on board in the next three years," he said. "But we have chosen not to launch until now, having households pre-register to get an idea of demand."
The PC is free in return for signing a three-year agreement. It is either returned or upgraded with a new agreement when the old one expires.
A CD-Rom containing the ads will be sent for the user to load each month. It will also update the operating system to allow for continued use of the PC.
Windows XP Home will come preloaded on the PC, allowing for different levels of access to content when defining individual user profiles. But households will have to collect and set up the PC themselves, with 24-hour telephone support.
Thornhill said: "When users first receive their PC they're guided through an on-screen questionnaire. Their responses are sent to a central database when they connect to the internet and made available to the advertisers so they can offer tailored ads."
A warning will appear 60 seconds before each 'commercial break' is due, offering the choice of accepting or delaying the transmission. Each broadcast can be delayed for five minutes to enable users to pause a game or complete online transactions.
Adverts will be shown against a black background and will combine broadcasts with links to online offers or further information on other websites.
Metronomy said that the content of the adverts would be appropriate to the profile logged on to the computer at the time. Otherwise, they will be shown at times that reflect the 9pm broadcasting watershed protocol.
Distribution of the PCs will begin at the end of February 2004.
Minimum specifications include:
Intel Celeron 2.4GHz processor
40GB hard drive
Intel Extreme 64MB onboard graphics
Infinity external speakers
Microsoft XP Home pre-installed
IBM E54 15" CRT monitor
Keyboard and mouse
Full three-year IBM warranty
Users can pre-register for a free PC here, or contact Metronomy on 08717 50 50 40.
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