Bandwidth Revisited

Here, here Sean Carton!

In a ClickZ column last month, “Bandwidth Blues,” my colleague Sean sounded a call for realism in web advertising. As it happens, the issue has been on my mind a lot lately, too. So much so that I consider the issue of bandwidth to be a major (if not THE major) concern for our business in 1999.

Sean set forth two important points:

  • The majority of web users are connecting to the Internet at speeds of 28.8k and below.
  • Most surfers are not rich media (Shockwave, Java) enabled.

These are hard, cold facts that often get lost when the conversation turns to the possibilities of web advertising. As a matter of fact, we would do well to ensure that telephone company and cable executives aren’t the only ones paying attention to issues of Internet capacity.

Hurry Up And Wait

Net users of all stripes still do an amazing amount of waiting. Even at high bandwidth connection speeds, the Internet flows like molasses. Comparing the movement of data on the Internet to traffic jams on Los Angeles freeways, technology experts say the biggest challenge for the industry going into 1999 will be squeezing more traffic through existing access lanes.

First to the table with a rich media/bandwidth work-around are our friends at MatchLogic. In December, MatchLogic introduced a product called SpeedSelect. SpeedSelect is a service that allows Internet advertisers and web sites to deliver different versions of advertising and content to users with varying connection speeds.

Says the company, “The delivery mechanism is automatic, transparent and in real time.”

This means that SpeedSelect identifies user bandwidth capabilities on the fly without the user knowing what is going on. Since many factors can affect a user’s total transfer speed on the Internet at any particular time, SpeedSelect monitors available user bandwidth and calibrates itself to provide a web browsing experience that is intended to be fine-tuned to each user’s capabilities.

SpeedSelect will interest advertisers, because it will purportedly take some of the pain out of delivering rich media to a universe where bandwidth is not apportioned equally. Content providers or advertisers can divide users into as many speed categories as they wish, MatchLogic says. For example, T1 users might receive a higher-quality, larger film clip than ISDN users, and users with 56k modems would receive larger graphic files than people with 28.8k modems.

“Until now, if you wanted to use larger advertisements or rich media on your site, it slowed load times to a crawl and often times resulted in the serving of incomplete content for those users with lower bandwidth,” says Russell Yanda, MatchLogic co-founder and director of rich media. “With SpeedSelect, advertisers or content providers can ensure that all users receive content regardless of their connection speed — high-bandwidth users get more sophisticated rich-media content, and lower-bandwidth users get quicker downloads.”

An advertiser, for example, might prepare three different ads based on the viewer’s connection capabilities: potentially a black and white static version advertisement for low-bandwidth users (14.4 kbps modem), a color animated version for average bandwidth users (28.8 kbps modem), and a rich media, interactive version for high-bandwidth users (ISDN or T1 connection).

Playing Telephone

The high-bandwidth, rich media future that we crave is also hot on the minds of execs in the telco and cable markets. We’re seeing huge plays by the telephone, cable and satellite companies, all struggling to be the bandwidth provider of choice to consumers. This pace of change is accelerating to the extent that we may find ourselves with four or five global super-carriers by 2002.

With the consolidation will come decreasing prices, even as demand increases. The supposition in the industry seems to be that competition and increased capacity will more than offset the upward pressure that pent-up demand will place on what carriers can charge.

This all means that Joe and Jane Average will find a greater number of options for connecting their computers to the global network. If the telcos and the other providers make smart plays in the market, Joe and Jane will enjoy a cheaper Internet minute even as their choices expand.

The Upsides

Suffice it to say that 1999 will show advertisers that there are work-arounds for rich media. MatchLogic seems to have proved that we can create rich advertising for the web without “killing the direct response goose.” I, for one, applaud MatchLogic for recognizing the disparity in connect speeds and for marketing a product that addresses it. I couldn’t tell you exactly how it works, but on paper, this SpeedSelect product seems to be just what that doctor ordered.

In fact, if recent telco developments are harbingers of the future, rich media will be an option for a lot more people. Combine this development with the emergence of smart delivery methods, and you have an environment that looks to be a lot more friendly to the broader use of technology-rich message delivery tools.

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