Rich Media: Get Comfortable Now

So what are the problems facing the rich media industry, anyway? That’s what a group of about 120 industry professionals tried to figure out at the first Rich Media Advertising Forum, held last week in San Francisco.

Being chairman of the conference was a nice experience for me since it gave me the opportunity to introduce and pay homage to a bunch of old friends like Allie Shaw from Unicast and Eric Anschutz of Shout Interactive as well as new faves like Karim Sanjabi of Freestyle Interactive and Susan Pinkwater of @tmosphere.

Both Allie and Eric represent those rare few that have been at this rich media thing as long as I have and have the scar tissue to prove it. Eric announced that Shout Interactive has just merged with Eyematic, a company that has developed a rich media-enabling platform (which I’ll talk about in a future column).

More interesting than even the great speaker presentations was the quality of audience participation. Rarely do you find a crowd so involved, knowledgeable, and vocal a trait that definitely upped the ante on the level of discussion.

One table, made up of mostly DoubleClick folks (including my good buddy, Nate Elliot), provided a veritable Greek chorus of running commentary. One of the issues facing the acceptance of rich media, as they see it, is the media buyers’ lack of comfort with the technology. They spoke about having meetings with clients and demonstrating all the cool things they could support, only to have the media person fall back on the old standby, a plain GIF.

All it takes is for someone to be burned once by some rich media campaign gone awry, either because no site would accept it, or there was no way to adequately track it, or it just plain didn’t work. Then it’s back to safe, old GIF land. Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM, as they used to say. Until, of course, you’re stuck with a building full of antiquated old iron programmed in COBOL, and the millennium is breathing down your neck.

According to a recent Jupiter report, the average surfer is going to be exposed to 950 Internet marketing messages per day by 2005. The study’s conclusion: Better start figuring out rich media now before it’s too late if you want to stand out from the crowd. In fact, Jupiter goes on to predict that 30 percent of all online ads will incorporate some form of rich media technology by 2005, whether it’s Java, Flash, audio, or video.

Wait… Have I said this before? Am I repeating myself? Sometimes I feel like a broken record standing up there on stage like Cassandra, spouting the future, destined not to be believed. How long, Lord, how long! How many stages do I have to ascend, how many articles do I have to write to get people to understand? The future is now. Get comfortable now, oh media buyer, so that you avoid a lot of discomfort later.

Other issues include site acceptance, standards (or rather, the lack of)… you know, the usual. A speaker from MSN told the audience that what’s needed is for someone to just get everyone in a room and hammer out a minimum standard that people could build on. At this point, Eric Picard of bluestreak turned toward me from the dais and said “You hear that, Bill?” Yeah, I hear. And at the conference, I was able to talk to many people who are passionate about this industry and are dying to help.

The vendor section was also filled with some pretty passionate folks who are trying to make a difference. A new company, TMX Interactive, picked the Rich Media Advertising Forum to launch its new rich media email service. TMX Interactive, based in the City of Brotherly Love, has RadicalMail in its sights and displayed some very smooth video compression technology. TMX handles production, too. Check it out.

A quick mention of Impressia, an Israeli company that I neglected to note in my Jupiter roundup a few weeks ago: It has a very impressive rich media e-commerce pop-up technology that works great for consumer product demonstrations on a web page. One look, and you’ll get it.

Till next week, keep it rich.

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