Cutting Edge Media Plot “Friends”-Free Future

NEW YORK – On the night of the “Friends” finale, interactive media aficionados gathered at MSN’s offices in midtown Manhattan to hear a panel of experts discuss emerging advertising forms. The consensus: if TV advertising isn’t dead altogether, it’s changing dramatically.

“Concurrency is dying,” said Todd Herman, streaming evangelist for MSN. “This death of concurrency is going to drive a whole lot of models.”

Herman spoke on a panel hosted by 212NYC, an interactive advertising organization in New York. The moderator was Rebecca Lieb, executive editor of this site.

By concurrency, Herman was referring to concurrent consumption of media: friends or families getting together to watch TV; or someone hosting a party to watch the “Friends” finale, for example. Greater fragmentation and the rise of technologies that allow consumer control are behind the trend, the experts agreed. How best to reach consumers in this new climate was debated.

John Gee, vice president of sales at interactive TV company OpenTV, believes television is still a viable medium, particularly as advertisers have opportunities to embed interactive features in TV programming. Gee described his company’s SpotOn product, which allows television ads to be targeted to certain set-top boxes, as Internet ads are targeted today.

“The death of television is far away, realistically,” he said.

The type of interactive television most familiar to today’s consumers is probably DVR technology, exemplified by TiVo. Neil Strow, advertising and research sales manager at that company, said the much talked-about ad-skipping behavior is no myth.

“Once TiVo is in the home, people do skip commercials,” Strow said. He added in TiVo homes, users skip up to 80 percent of commercials, and they do so quickly.

Still, Strow noted users also choose to watch long-form commercials placed by advertisers on the TiVo device. “More and more, the advertising community is embracing the TiVo,” Strow said, citing relationships with Coca-Cola, Audi, Best Buy, and a number of movie studios.

Microsoft’s vision is somewhat different, according to MSN’s Herman. He described TV-like experiences on the PC, such as programming offered through MSN’s deal with Fox Sports, announced Friday. On MSN’s streaming video content, users can’t skip commercials, Herman noted. He added, the portal may begin to allow users to select which ads they want to view.

Competition to these TV spin-offs came from another emerging medium, gaming platforms. Electronic Arts’ SVP of global publishing, Erick Hachenburg, described how the growth of the Web has changed gaming from a packaged goods to a services business. “All of a sudden, we’re transforming into a media business,” said Hachenburg. “We can have an ongoing relationship with our customers.”

Hachenberg demonstrated a version of snowboarding game SSX 3 in which the player gets extra points for riding through a Honda Element, an SUV-like vehicle aimed at young drivers. The snowboard course was studded with huge 7-Up billboards. According to Hachenberg, 97 percent of those who played the game recalled the brand; 90 percent of people remembered where they’d seen the ad; and 60 percent thought it actually improved the game. “We think we’re changing the way integration works,” he said.

Nihal Mehta, founder and president of mobile marketing firm IPSH, described his company’s offerings as complementary to TV, rather than a TV-killer. Mehta noted that while the U.S. has been slow to catch on to text messaging — the format for most mobile marketing in Europe and Japan — Americans nevertheless sent half a billion text messages last month. Most messaging, he said, took place between teenagers, a hot demographic for advertisers.

However hot these emerging media, they still face a challenge: buy-in from advertisers and agencies. While interactive agencies are most interested in the new technologies, the panelists agreed, the bigger budgets are controlled by traditional agencies.

“That’s why I go straight to the client,” said Stroh to an audience filled with agency employees. He hastened to add, “Just joking.”

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