Digital Media: It’s Not Just the Internet Anymore, Part 2

In part one, we lamented the modern e-marketing professional’s plight. As interactivity permeates traditional media and nonstandard advertising becomes more pervasive, we look to those who understand interactive (two-way) communications to chart the course ahead. E-marketers now work in a variety of digital fields, including wireless, gaming, and interactive TV (iTV). It’s the Wild West all over again as we define the next digital marketing era.

George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It makes sense those of us who weathered the “over-promise and under-deliver” Internet years be the guides through this new digital obstacle course. The tasks and breadth of options are truly daunting. Let’s take a closer look at two key areas as we head toward the 2004 planning season: gaming and iTV.

Gaming: Tap Into It

Gaming enjoys significant consumer adoption and mind share, but it’s relatively untapped from a marketing perspective. According to Forrester Research, last year 33 percent of North American households were console gamers (Xbox, Playstation, GameCube, etc.) and 36 percent were PC gamers. By 2006, these penetration figures are estimated to increase to 41 and 42 percent, respectively.

The game industry is quite fractionalized. There are console games that attach to a TV screen; PC-based games; massively multi-player (MMP) games typically played online; and “advergames,” courtesy of paid advertisers. Arguably the hottest gaming area is the merging of most of these categories into “connected gaming.” Connected gaming capitalizes on the increasing prevalence of high-speed, in-home Internet connections that allow users to play with others via a network in real time.

The marketing challenge is how to integrate our messaging into the game environment in a way that’s natural to the experience while not overtly commercial. How do we place a value on product integration? At what point do we alienate the gamers? How do we measure success? There are no hard-and-fast answers, but this is a primary area for learning during the year ahead. Clients understand gamers’ passion and their prevalence. The industry will try to harness and channel all that consumer energy.

The Digital Evolution: PVRs and EPGs

Arguably, the hottest area in digital evolution is the broad iTV category. Any industry representing billions of ad dollars that’s heading toward complete user control (i.e., the ability to skip commercials) would get marketers talking — and make them nervous. iTV is doing just that.

The iTV industry can be broken into several categories (most with their own abbreviations): personal video recorders (PVRs, e.g., TiVo and ReplayTV); electronic program guides (EPGs, e.g., TV Guide Interactive); video on demand (VOD); enhanced television (ETV, e.g., Wink); and addressability. Each area warrants a dedicated analysis, but for the sake of brevity I’ll highlight the areas I believe present strong near-term opportunities: PVRs and EPGs.

PVRs will revolutionize the way you watch television. Ask those with TiVo or ReplayTV PVRs. They swear it’s broadcast nirvana. PVRs allow you to pause live TV, easily record your favorite shows, skip commercials on playback, and more. Forrester says by the end of this year, there will be 9 million PVRs in the U.S., soaring to 42 million by 2006. That’s remarkable growth. Forrester discovered last year that on average, only 41 percent of PVR households watched commercials during selected primetime programs. Be afraid, Corporate America. Be very afraid.

Advertisers such as BMW, Best Buy, and Porsche have tapped into PVRs’ ability to deliver long-form content. They broadcast to consumers exclusive content in new, refreshing ways. Forget the traditional 30-second ad spot! Fully two-thirds of PVR households skip those, anyway. PVR companies can report on number of content views, length of view, repeat views, and so on. This will doubtless be a very fertile testing ground in the coming year.

As the number of TV channels multiplies (courtesy of digital cable and satellite), navigational tools for all the options become increasingly important. EPGs provide navigation, typically through a grid-like interface and filtering options, to enable consumers to locate desired content. These guides will continue to be TV “portals” in the near term. They can and should be exploited from a marketing perspective. It will be interesting to see how we make these environments more dynamic as they mature.

By now, your head’s probably spinning with the breadth of digital marketing options as we head into 2004 planning. It’s not just the Internet anymore. It’s all the wonderful permutations of digital media.

Let’s embrace these challenges with passion and enthusiasm. Pinch yourself, and saddle up. Let’s show the world what we’re capable of.

Until next time, giddyup!

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