IAB Rich Media Task Force: One-Sided?

As many of you may have heard, the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has undergone some interesting changes lately. First, it changed its name to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Second, it changed its focus to support the publisher community specifically — to the exclusion of all other parties.

Additionally, the IAB has formed the Rich Media Task Force to set industry-wide standards for rich media. The team is large and composed of some of the luminaries and unsung heroes of rich media in the industry — like Bettina Fischmann from CNET, Gary Hebert from Disney Interactive Group, Nate Elliot from DoubleClick, and Chuck Gafvert from AOL. This is a pretty smart group of people and I have the greatest respect for them.

But since the IAB has excluded rich media technology companies from participating — which is sort of like forming a group focused on fine cuisine but not allowing any chefs to participate in the forum — I’m writing an open letter to the task force here. After all, its members are about to set industry guidelines that profoundly affect my ability to feed my family, and I’m a little concerned.

Luckily, Emerging Interest seems to be stepping up to the plate with support for the rich media technology providers — but I won’t steal Bill’s thunder.

An Open Letter to the IAB Rich Media Task Force

While I have the greatest respect for many of the individuals participating in the task force, I have some concerns about the kind of standards that publishers might come up with, given the history of the industry. It would be tragic to take a step backward from where the existing rich media technology providers have gained acceptance so far.

As I said before in an earlier ClickZ Advertising Technology column, publishers have been too protective of the user experience for too long. They’ve taken feedback from early adopters and used that feedback as guidelines for the way the Web should work. Early adopters are the loudest group of users; they’re notoriously fickle and hard to please — and publishers have bought off on this group as their audience.

The Web is now a mass medium, and the expectations of the masses differ from those of the early adopters. Marketers and creative teams working with agencies want more flexibility to get their message across and to elicit a direct response. Rich media producers can provide them with this need without alienating users.

If the IAB Rich Media Task Force is hoping to make a real difference, it is time to step up to the plate and knock the ball out of the park. Make a bold statement with these standards — don’t just agree to a set of minimum standards that are more prohibitive than the widely accepted rich media formats today. As an industry, we should be forging ahead, not lagging behind.

This group has a powerful opportunity. Advertisers have complained repeatedly about the restrictions of online advertising. Let’s take this chance to challenge and change that mindset.

Here are my general recommendations for all formats:

  • Make sure your guidelines are for interactive advertising. Don’t use television models to restrict these ads. It has much less to do with limiting the time an ad runs than capturing interactions with users. Restricting run times will actually frustrate and anger users who are interacting with an ad — and user interaction is the goal of the medium.

  • Remove loop limits. This is the most prohibitive and most outdated of all requirements that are widely accepted. The biggest concern about looping animations is that continuously looping animations are annoying. Perhaps they annoy the members of this forum as users — mainly made up of early adopters, like me — but you are not the target audience of your customers (the advertiser). And in most cases, neither are the very vocal early adopters who complain about continuous looping.
  • Allow audio upon mouseover of rich media ads. Unsolicited audio is generally prohibited, which I agree with in principle. BUT, if a user rolls over an ad, and a sound plays, that’s a different experience.
  • Don’t limit file size. The metrics used by publishers to allow or disallow content are not correct for the medium. File size is a relative thing when discussing rich media because most technologies have built-in mechanisms to address this issue. A more proper metric would be something like this: an initial file load of 15K, total file load per page of 50K — unless content streams.
  • Permit advanced technology. Flash can be built to stream in content. Audio and video are virtually always streaming. Enliven uses the built-in streaming of Director in its standard product and can make use of Flash streaming in its Flash products.
  • Sequential or polite loading. Bluestreak’s Java technology uses a sequential loading methodology with load priorities — never overloading the user’s connection with too much of a content dump. This doesn’t slow down the page load by competing with the page content. Unicast makes use of the “polite download” of its interstitial technology, which loads content only when a user’s connection is free. The savvy technologists in this industry will continue to innovate new ways of getting more content to users without slowing down the connection.
  • Bandwidth detection. Reward technologies like bandwidth detection by loosening restrictions for those who employ it. Additionally, publishers should start enabling their ad servers with bandwidth-detection technology to alleviate some of these issues.

Respectfully,

Eric Picard

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