Bill once again dons his Nostradamus hat to finish up his rich media predictions for 2001. Needless to say, he's bullish on broadband, hot on cable modems, and he thinks the killer app driving broadband adoption will be Internet radio rather than TV. These and more on the future of rich media in this space.
Taking up after last week's column, I now don my Nostradamus hat once more, as I finish up my rich media predictions for 2001.
Unlike my dire predictions for interactive TV last week, I'm extremely bullish about broadband in 2001. This year's demise of pure-play streaming media companies such as DEN and Pseudo had more to do with the inept way they were run rather than any post "Chapter 11" management excuses of being ahead of the curve. Let's face it, Pseudo's programming was only slightly worse than your average cable access show, and it will take the courts to sort through DEN's den of iniquity.
As I alluded to last week, Internet content delivered through a PC is a lean-forward medium, meaning that viewers are actively engaged. They are sitting up, hands on their keyboards and mice, inches from the screen in "hunting" mode. Once broadband access catches up with the typical American household, the content business, as we know it, will be forever altered.
Radio will be the first industry to be truly transformed by broadband access. Since installing the cable modem in my house, I have rediscovered radio as an entertainment medium. I even listen to the local New York radio stations through the Internet, due to the clarity and lack of static (and, of course, I play it through my home stereo using my Sonicbox Internet radio receiver). Time shifting, no static, world news and information, plus hundreds of stations that specialize in all sorts of interesting music will rejuvenate radio as a medium. Pseudo may have missed the boat, but for other portals specializing in streaming content, their ship is about to come in.
Prediction 5: The hot must-have holiday item for 2001 will be a cable modem.
Prediction 6: Internet radio, not TV, will be the killer app driving broadband adoption in 2001.
Of course, the big problem facing the broadband industry is the lack of "pipes" to make it happen. If you ask any engineer about broadband, he or she will tell you that broadband is still years off -- that the lines aren't there and the ones that are can't handle the capacity. All the old equipment needs to be replaced, he or she will tell you, and this will take years.
How do I remain so blissfully optimistic in the face of all this so-called reality? Well, I've been around long enough to know that it's these same engineers who, approximately five years ago, predicted that the Internet couldn't handle the load and was in eminent danger of imploding. One engineer actually predicted the exact date: sometime in 1996, I believe. I have learned from long experience that if you listen to engineers, you will always be wrong.
I prefer to believe my own eyes. I just got back from a very nontechnical friend's house (you know the kind I mean -- still using software packages that have the word "'97" attached to them), and he just installed a cable modem himself. My neighbor over the fence just got his. Across the street? More cable modems. This stuff is spreading through my neighborhood faster than the West Nile virus. I have to believe that this scenario is replicating itself across the United States. You notice I said cable modems and not DSL. Which brings us to the next prediction...
Prediction 7: The cable companies will win the broadband war in the home. The phone companies and DSL will lose.
Another side of the infrastructure question has to do with serving the content, including ads. Streaming companies like RealNetworks and Akamai are going to do very well in 2001, if they play their cards right. In addition, ad networks that are staking their claim on serving rich media streaming ads (companies like L90 and TargetNet) are going to see their market share dramatically increase as a direct result. Back-end enablers like Solbright are also going to see huge increases in business in the year 2001. In addition, the in-stream ad (i.e., an audio and/or video ad that plays before or between streaming content) is going to come of age as an ad medium.
Prediction 8: Companies associated with serving streaming media will be streaming uphill in 2001.
Prediction 9: In-stream ads will become one of the dominant forms of Internet advertising by the fourth quarter of 2001.
Only space for one last prediction. Wireless will suck up huge amounts of money and media print during the first half of 2001 before suffering a huge downturn in the last half of the year. No one will figure out any applications, other than talking, that people will want on their cell phones.
Prediction 10: Absolutely no one will receive a message on their cell phones offering them a dollar off a cup of coffee as they pass a nearby Starbucks in the year 2001.
Well, that was fun. Next week it's back to current affairs. Until then, keep it rich!
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