Used to be, rich media vendors specialized in a chosen format. Now they're all trying to be a total solution. How to choose? Parttwo of a two-part series.
It's ever harder to distinguish rich media vendors based on format alone. What follows is the second part of a story examining the various providers of video units, floating ads, interstitials and the rest. Read part one.
Among video providers, Klipmart alone draws agency descriptors like "a dream to work with" and "great experience all the way around."
"I've done video with everybody," said one agency's head of media. "It's been less than great with everyone else."
The company is certainly meticulous. For each client deployment, it publishes eight versions of every media file, including lo-res, hi-res, and codecs for each major media format. This means advertisers reach a greater percent of their audience with optimized video.
"There's the perception that the rich media companies are converging on each other," said Chris Young, Klipmart's CEO. "But there's a certain expertise that video requires."
This does appear to be the case. While the various floating, expanding and transitional formats have been mastered by a few, video remains difficult to do well. Young says he wins eight out of 10 deals he pitches. "It's not just a service game," he said.
Still, he admits a day will come when everyone has mastered video. He estimates that day lies about 18 months out. What will Klipmart do then? Creative and production support. The company recently worked directly with in-house designers at Disney to shoot Web-only video of Vin Diesel as part of an online campaign for the new flick "Pacifier."
"Klipmart is working on authoring these things," he said. "That's diversification."
Motif (DoubleClick DART)
Nearly two years after its launch, DoubleClick has gained a reputation as an appealing all-in-one rich media provider. Motif's workflow tools and its formats have achieved pretty good acceptance. The division added 44 clients in the last six months. Agencies including Carat and Beyond Interactive report substantial use of the platform. (Beyond Interactive is DoubleClick's agency.)
A big part of Motif's current appeal is integrated reporting. Just as advertisers start clamoring for better rich media metrics, along comes DoubleClick offering built-in integration with offline campaigns.
"We're more interested in having the data integrated into our reports than in having really slick standalone reports," said Lanctot. "It's important for us to know things like, if somebody has exposure to three-plus video ads in a campaign, how does that influence their search click-throughs or a current direct response campaign?
He added, "My sense is the standalone rich media providers need to find elegant ways to integrate their data and reporting into the Atlas or DoubleClick systems, or they may lose business. I don't think marketers down the road are going to stand for siloed reporting systems."
DoubleClick is betting that's true. Ari Paparo, product manager for DoubleClick's DART Motif, said, "The value now is not in new creative formats. It's in authoring tools. It's in support. It's in integration into workflow."
Another ad management player, Atlas DMT, will soon offer an all-purpose rich media platform of its own. This is rumored to be weeks away.
Where Motif stumbles is in creative support. In this area, it's at the opposite end of the spectrum from PointRoll, which has staked its fortunes on making its expanding ad units the rich formats of choice for creative types.
"Creative agencies are beginning to shake the buy," said Andy Ellenthal, SVP of global sales. He pointed to a recent deployment for Moxie Interactive on its Verizon account. "We weren't just talking to the media director. We were working with the creative director and all the designers. Creative teams are taking a more active role in determining format."
PointRoll released its own set of growth numbers recently touting 2004 revenue growth of 163 percent and an 87 percent lift in campaign volume, to 1,070.
Additionally, the company is for sale, ClickZ learned in January. If it finds a buyer soon, it'll be the second rich media acquisition in recent memory. Several agency heads expect a wave of consolidation.
Ellenthal winces when asked whether PointRoll is being forced to differentiate on customer service and pricing. "I hate the word service," he said. "I see it as a philosophical difference. We want to be as easy to work with as possible."
Consensus among media buyers is that United Virtualities is among the greatest innovators in rich media. The company's uniquely named product line includes the famous Shoshkeles, the Ooqa-Ooqa branded browser, and the new Shoshmosis video unit with detailed interactivity inside the frame. UV was the first major ad vendor to package this latter feature, sometimes called hot spotting, which agencies have said they want and other vendors are preparing to release.
CEO Mookie Tenembaum said many other players just give lip service to new product development. "Nobody else is spending their money on R&D," he said in January. Other vendors claim that's not the case, but for the most part, they haven't demonstrated it as well as this company has.
Until recently, it appeared Unicast had backed itself into a low volume cul-de-sac. The company specialized in its trademarked interstitial units, and a year ago staked a large bet on video. The company's polite download technology made already scarce transitional inventory even more so. Internet users' browsing speed meant quite often the ads weren't given a chance to load.
In the wake of its acquisition by 3D graphics company Viewpoint, Unicast has diversified. It now offers several in-page and floating ad units, which it sells alongside its legacy transitional offerings. Media buyers are cautiously optimistic about the company.
"I'm still not sure what we're going to see from them. It's going to be a very different company in six months," said Lanctot.
The providers of rich media are converging somewhat in terms of the formats they offer. It's a huge win for media buyers if they get reduced prices on ad products that are comparable across these vendors. To an extent, those discounts are already occurring. Still, agencies still clearly see value in working with vendors individually, based on their areas of strength.
That the boutique model still prevails means the long quest for standards will last a bit longer. It's a problem for advertisers, but one they seem resigned to. Ian Schafer, CEO of president of Deep Focus, put it succinctly.
"It's like walking into a bar and speaking a bunch of different languages but saying the same thing," he said. "You don't try to pick up girls that way."
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Until March 2012, Zach Rodgers was managing editor of ClickZ's award-winning coverage of news and trends in digital marketing. He reported on the rise of web companies, data markets, ad technologies, and government Internet policy, among other subjects.
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