The IAB's numbers come straight from the web sites themselves, some 200 of them, rather than from independent estimates. "The number one question is 'How do you know they're not lying?'" says Peter Petrusky, director of Coopers & Lybrand's New Media Group, the New York-based business consultancy that conducts the quarterly study for the IAB. "We do some independent checking. But we also guarantee the confidentiality of the individual reports, and only release the results in aggregate. "
For the record, Petrusky believes that there was, in fact, a strong fourth quarter, and interprets it as a sign that the seasonal patterns of traditional media are starting to emerge in the online industry, suggesting that it's reaching a kind of maturity. So what does Jupiter's crystal ball say about the rest of this year? It predicts nearly twice as much money -- $1.9 billion -- for 1998. Even better news awaits those web sites still in the game by the end of the century: $7.7 billion in 2002. Cable TV, by comparison, had ad sales of $7.4 billion last year. And look how healthy (cough,cough) cable is.