The online advertising industry is in for a shock. At the very moment agencies are becoming comfortable with rich media, the rules are changing. The culprit: the rising tide of alternative Internet devices.
Broadband, narrowband, big devices, small devices, wearable devices and wireless devices are all crowding into the Net landscape. Fortunately, with a good dose of education, creativity, and technology, future-focused agencies can persevere and leverage these changes to their advantage. In fact, their survival may depend on it.
Currently, the majority of Internet users have two Net access devices: Netscape and Internet Explorer. Granted, they aren't really devices, but we can consider them as such. As an agency or a developer, you need to create rich media using a format that will have a large enough audience to make the cost of creating it worthwhile.
Although we are limited to just two platforms for which we can develop advertising, the creative itself can be built in many different sizes. Add to that the variety of available technologies, and it's easy to see why getting creative to work across all versions of IE and Netscape, as well as both the Mac and PC platforms, can be time-consuming. In fact, media buyers will often decide to simply "forget the Mac" or "leave out the 3.0 browsers." While statistically, this might be a smart money-saving move, it also means that many users end up with less value for their platform.
Each year, more and more Internet-enabled devices come to market, from small screens that support only four lines of ASCII text to broadband-enabled 3D rendering machines.
As the Internet landscape changes, creating successful rich media will become more challenging. Agencies need to be prepared. Many companies are already looking ahead to solve the problems created by multiple devices, but a great many more still need a crash course in the future of Internet access.
The problem lies in the fact that people are not using just Netscape or IE anymore. In fact, they are accessing the Net less often with a Mac or a PC browser, and more often through devices like the Palm VII, Sega's Dreamcast, WebTV, Sony Playstation 2 in Japan, Tivo, Net-enabled cell phones, and many others.
Jupiter predicts that in 2003, Net-enabled video game consoles (Dreamcast, Playstation 2, Nintendo Dolphin, Microsoft xBox) will surpass 16 million units in the U.S. alone. Imagine what the advertising will look like on this vast array of devices. (Let's just hope it's not an animated GIF.)
Looking at the current rich media landscape, we are limited to a few formats that are widely supported by Netscape and IE. According toTurboAd's "The Rich Media List," which tracks sites that accept rich media, HTML is the number-one supported format, and Java is the second most accepted format. Flash is gaining ground and has a bright future, but it's currently hard to place Flash media.
When using these formats, careful thought and construction need to go into making the creative "resizable" in order to fit the multisized media buys that are common today. With enough planning on the media side, creative can be developed to fit multiple sizes in advance, cutting down on development time and costs. What's more, by keeping multiple sizes in mind when designing advertising, agencies can make appropriate use of space, color, and animation.
Much of the industry has focused on a lack of broadband access as the greatest hindrance to rich media. The broadband problem stems mainly from sloppy rich media production and the desire to force streaming video as a rich media alternative. In contrast, many companies have delivered amazing rich media results in 12k or less and continue to refine what can be done in tiny file sizes.
Higher bandwidth is coming, however, as the DSLs, cable modems, low-orbit satellites, high-bandwidth wireless, and similar competing high-bandwidth services are deployed. Content will definitely get richer.
Yet devices such as pagers don't require DSL speeds to operate and to stream in information and advertising. They need just a fraction of the bandwidth available now. Agencies will need to develop simultaneously for high- and low-bandwidth campaigns.
Smarter Ad Servers
Beyond bandwidth, the problem that will need to be seriously addressed as more and more Net-connected devices come to market is that of displaying the correct creative for the device receiving it. These Net devices will vary greatly with regard to display size, processor power, and amounts of RAM.
Unfortunately, this diversity of devices will undoubtedly complicate rich media production and add additional creative units to the media mix. Rich media ads and ad servers need to be smarter. With detection of the end device to which we are delivering ads, the right creative can automatically be served. Creating rich media will take a level of technical sophistication that the online advertising industry has yet to discover.
Ideally, no matter what device users are employing to access the Net, they should be able to obtain relevant advertising content in a format suited for their devices whether it be an ASCII ticker in one line of text giving them tomorrow's forecast, or a rotating 3D weather map displayed with amazing lifelike detail on their Playstation 2 (both sponsored by The Weather Channel or CNN, of course.)
The weather sponsorship, in this case, needs to know which device the user is on, and consequently must send that user the correct version of itself to display perfectly on his or her device. No problem, right?
So why aren't agencies preparing for these changes in a world soon to be full of Net devices? Sounds like a good topic for next week.
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Karim is President & CEO of Freestyle Interactive Inc., a privately held, full-service interactive shop based in San Francisco. Freestyle creates online advertising and marketing solutions, such as interactive Java banner ads, promotions, and branded entertainment, for progressive Fortune 1000 clients. Freestyle also offers to top agencies and interactive shops technical consulting and engineering that complements their services. The people at Freestyle playfully describe their work as "a little creative and a lot of math." Prior to founding Freestyle in May 1997, Karim was President of Node8, an Internet consulting company that evolved into Freestyle.
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