Developers, Developers, Developers…Advertisers!

For at least a few of you, those words likely take you back to the video that went around a few years ago of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer getting (in his words) “a little emotional” on stage during a speech at a conference.

Well, he was back at it again at Avenue A|Razorfish’s annual client summit, and it was music to our ears. During his keynote, an audience member asked him about that (in-)famous speech. Ballmer told the story, and in so doing, quickly summarized some of the changes in focus Microsoft has gone through over the years. Early on it was Windows, then it was developers. Now, Ballmer’s company has a compelling vision of the future and has recognized the increasing importance advertising will play in evolving revenue models. Microsoft is now all about “advertisers, advertisers, advertisers, baby!” You can see video clips from Ballmer’s energetic keynote.

Microsoft is fully embracing the digital lifestyle (Ballmer called it the digital “mystyle”) to reflect the consumer desire for personalization and customization: what I want, how I want, when I want, and is in a flat-out race to own the digital home.

Ballmer’s statement could be taken as an admission that media consumption patterns are changing, driven by many different factors. Key among them are:

  • Increasing broadband penetration
  • Proliferation of connected devices
  • The convergence of media platforms (such as TV & the Internet)
  • Rich internet applications, enabled by the sophistication of development technologies such as Flash, AJAX, and Adobe Flex
  • The digital lifestyle – consumer love affair with the web and convenience and greater connectivity afforded by innovations like digital photography, online photo sharing, digital music distribution, and so on

    It’s a virtuous circle. These evolving media consumption patterns are feed innovation, and innovative devices and services in turn fuel the changes. Even more exciting things are on the horizon. It feels a lot like 1999, when mobile devices, “convergence” and interactive TV (iTV) were the buzz. The difference this time is that, for the most part, the companies behind the buzz have actual revenue models and are providing services consumers really want and are ready to welcome into their lives.

    TiVo represents an early step toward iTV. Windows Media Center is another critical step, combining TiVo-like functionality with all of the normal processing power and additional functionality of a PC. Apple is bringing the same ease-of-use to digital video distribution that it brought to digital music (as of late February, 15 million video downloads). Slingbox takes a step beyond time-shifting and introduces place-shifting. We’ve got smart Widgets in OS X Tiger, providing fast access to information that’s important to us. Microsoft’s upcoming Vista OS will introduce Gadgets, and promises improved graphics capabilities with Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF).

    Companies are starting to understand design and user experience are critical to the success of anything. These emerging new technologies are in the process of introducing a completely new media consumption paradigm. Things like WPF, Media Center, and Apple’s Front Row are all driving the possibilities for really interesting ways to connect with consumers. It all makes for beautiful interfaces, smooth animation and incredible experiences, all produced in relatively short development cycles. It’s a world in which marketers are able to connect with consumers in more meaningful ways and establish that critical emotional connection — but in a completely interactive and engaging way. Think of it as part TV commercial, part Web site, and part in-store experience. It melds photorealistic 3D modeling with rich animation and interactivity. The result opens all kinds of doors for rich applications and highly visual user interfaces.

    All this together brings a fundamental shift in how companies can engage consumers, and it’ll happen on the Web site, in smart client applications, in ads and more. It’ll take full advantage of the ever-blurring line between online and off. If that’s not enough, it’s going to happen across devices as well.

    And guess what, folks? It’s all gonna need new ad models, and with the consumer squarely in the center of it all, I’m looking forward to figuring out what they look like.

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