Netscape 6.0: Threat to Rich Media?

A possible threat to the rich media community was delivered this week as Netscape released the preview version of Netscape 6.0. For the first time since integrating Java into its popular browser, Netscape does not include Java support in the default, or “typical” download of this product. (Java support is included in the “complete” and “custom” download versions of Netscape 6.0)

This means that if you’re like most people who automatically choose the typical install, you will suddenly find yourself without the ability to view Java applets, even if you are upgrading from a previous version of Netscape that did support Java. If this situation continues as part of the final release version of Netscape 6, it jeopardizes the market penetration of rich media companies and destination sites that depend on Java to deliver their content.

This would include AudioBase, Unicast, Enliven, Bluestreak, Ipix, IBM’s Hot Media, Emblaze, and Shout 3D, according to Karim Sanjabi, CEO of Freestyle Interactive whose innovative agency developed the Java-based Hewlett-Packard Butterfly ads that I wrote about in a previous column. Karim points out that his company chose Java in which to develop their applications because of the 95 percent acceptance rate that Java currently enjoys.

A question remains as to what effect this will have in the market, however. Netscape has been losing market share to Microsoft’s IE for some time. Many companies who develop client-side applications have already stopped supporting Netscape in their development plans, concentrating solely on developing ActiveX controls for IE 5.0.

Netscape’s decision is sure to bring the nearly 100 percent browser support of Java down a bit. However, at this stage of the game, whatever Netscape does may only represent the sound of a tree falling in the forest that no one heard, sad as that is for some of us to acknowledge. The fact is that you just don’t see the formally ubiquitous “best viewed with Netscape” buttons anymore.

As you can imagine, there was quite a bit of response to last week’s column on The Thinking Media’s departure from the rich media advertising space to focus on wireless applications. Chris Breikss from DiscoverVancouver.com reports that his site loves rich media since he is averaging 30 percent click-through on the rich media ads his site hosts, compared to the one percent click-through that he gets on typical GIF banners.

Tim Crouch from Beyond Interactive writes to say that he is excited about a BlueStreak ad his company is getting ready to deploy. Tim feels that far from being dead, rich media has barely been touched, and that agencies that actually spend the time to properly plan out the design and execution of rich media campaigns are seeing tremendous results.

But by far the most comprehensive response came from BlueStreak’s effusive evangelist Eric Picard:

“Respectfully, I think Owen’s comments reflect the difficulties faced by Thinking Media specifically. We’ve found none of this to be true at BlueStreak but much of that is due to our timeliness to market. Thinking Media was very early to market.”

Eric goes on to say that when BlueStreak arrived in the market, The Thinking Media and Enliven were the only two choices. According to Eric, even though Thinking Media’s technology was superior, Enliven won the war because agencies could create rich media banners using familiar tools (i.e., Director from Macromedia.)

“BlueStreak was able to differentiate very effectively in this market by offering a completely different business model from both Enliven and Thinking Media. Our model is more about collecting data than branding, which is where both other companies focused.”

“Since our On-the-Fly tool is so easy for any designer to master, we are able to offer increased ROI to both advertisers and agencies advertisers because we’re seeing an order of magnitude increase in conversions, and agencies because less specialized designers can build more effective advertising in much less time. Generally after two hours of training, a designer can start building ads.”

Indeed. One of BlueStreak’s larger customers was able, after about four or five hours of training, to create 26 new rich media campaigns in less than three weeks. Eric finishes his epistle by pointing out the three major concerns he hears from agencies about rich media:

  • First is site acceptance.

  • Second is tracking and having the ability to update and improve the campaign over time.
  • Third is ease of creation.

BlueStreak has approached solutions to the first two from an architectural level, building code to address the needs of the host sites, ad serving companies, and designers.

Owen Davis and Eric Picard find common ground on the last point, however: The need for good tools is critical if rich media is to grow and succeed. Having browsers that support Java wouldn’t hurt either.

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