IAB Releases, Cloaks Rich Media Guidelines

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released its final rich media guidelines for over-the-page units, but to see them one must download and install the Viewpoint rich media player.

Users who have not installed the player, or who use a browser that’s incompatible with the player, get a static .gif image that says “Download the Viewpoint Rich Media Player to See the IAB Rich Media Guidelines.” It links to the Viewpoint site. Viewpoint and its largest investor, America Online, participated in the Rich Media Task Force that came up with the guidelines, according to the IAB.

A user who downloads the Viewpoint player can zoom in and read the rich media guidelines one line at a time. It’s not possible to see the whole chart in a readable format, or to print it. Use of the format for publishing the guidelines and its effect on the usability of the chart has at least a few industry-watchers questioning the organization.

“Why would you make it difficult, why would you add another step in getting that information out?” asked Jules Gardner, founder and CEO of rich media firm PointRoll, a Viewpoint competitor. “Why should an industry organization that’s setting guidelines use a proprietary software format?” Gardner’s company was listed by the IAB as a participant on the Rich Media Task Force that established the guidelines, yet Gardner says the company had no involvement in the task force.

Nate Elliott, a JupiterResearch analyst and a former chair of the IAB’s Rich Media Task Force, also questioned the move. “I have no idea why they’d publish their standards in an unprintable proprietary rich media format that no one uses,” he said.

The IAB paints the use of Viewpoint technology as a cost-saving measure, claiming it didn’t intend to endorse one technology over another.

“We used Viewpoint, I would imagine, because they offered it to us,” said Emily Kutner, director of public relations for the IAB. “There’s absolutely no preferential intent on our part at all.”

Kutner said the IAB would be looking into the usability issues and correcting them, if necessary. “If we need to change the format so it is accessible, more readable, more useable, we will do that,” she said.

The Viewpoint Media Player had a 64 percent market penetration in December 2003, according to an IPSOS study cited by Viewpoint. In contrast, the same study found that Macromedia’s Flash format had a 98 percent penetration, Java had a 94 percent penetration, and the Adobe Acrobat Reader reached 78 percent of the Internet audience.

The guidelines themselves seem fairly conservative. They require all audio to be user-initiated, except when they run in a context in which a user has already accepted audio — for example, an ad that runs during a user-initiated movie trailer that contains audio. All ads must offer a “close box” or “skip add” button. The length of animation is set at 15 seconds for in-page, expandable or over-the-page ads. Between-page and in-stream ads can run either 15 or 30 seconds.

“These guidelines will encourage advertiser use by creating an industry-wide advertising platform that advertisers and their agencies can smartly utilize across multiple publishers without restricting creativity,” said Adam Gelles, the IAB’s director of industry initiatives, in a statement.

JupiterResearch’s Elliott was more skeptical about the guidelines’ impact. “Most sites already accept creative above and beyond these specs,” he said. “The IAB tried those kinds of conservative rich media standards once, and they didn’t work. I don’t know why they’d work this time around.”

Note: ClickZ News has re-formatted the guidelines in HTML for our readers’ benefit.

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