Rich Media Predictions: Part I

I am sometimes accused of being a futurist, but I think I’m really a right-around-the-corner-ist. But in order to test my predictive mettle, I thought it would be fun to get a jump on all the would-be Kreskins out there and give you my predictions about the rich media landscape for 2001. So here it is, Bill’s 2001 Rich Media Predictions:

Rich Media Banner and Interstitial Space

The main players in this space are Enliven, bluestreak, and Unicast, and this is an area that is ripe for consolidation in 2001. The big question mark is whether sleeping giant Macromedia is going to wake up and begin dominating this market. The main issue with all of the brand-name players has always been scalability from a production standpoint, and Macromedia certainly has the hearts and minds of the creative community. But Macromedia lacks connections to the world of advertising, and the fastest way to fill that void is through acquisition.

What is going to make this interesting, however, is Adobe. Unless Adobe moves quickly, Macromedia is going to own the web. With Macromedia’s Flash so ubiquitous, Adobe is going to have to rely on open standards like SVG to make a stand. To counteract the Flash juggernaut, Adobe needs to make some strategic acquisitions to move developers over to the open standard and away from Flash, in the same way that Microsoft’s acquisition of Softimage a few years ago was designed to move high-end 3D developers away from Silicon Graphics (SGI) and over to Windows NT.

In either case, this leaves both bluestreak and Unicast in a very attractive position to be acquired. Both companies have developed excellent relationships with the advertising community but lack the wide distribution of tools necessary to rapidly scale their businesses within the creative community. A matchup with either Macromedia or Adobe would be a great marriage for either company.

Prediction 1: Bluestreak and Unicast will be acquired by either Macromedia or Adobe in 2001.

Enliven, of course, is already owned by Excite@Home, and the last year has been a rough one for it. Once the dominant player in the field, it has struggled with corporate reshufflings, staff turnovers, and other problems that have left it reeling. I predict that 2001 is going to be a make-or-break year for Enliven. If it continues to stumble, it’ll probably be gone by year’s end. But I’m not counting it out yet. Enliven still has great name recognition, despite its best efforts to destroy this, and has some strong partners. Plus it has recently developed and released some new products to better compete against bluestreak. We’ll see.

Prediction 2: It’s a make-or-break year for Enliven. Unless it pulls out of its current tailspin, it’ll be toast by 2002’s New Year’s Eve toast.

Rich Media Email

Rich media email is going to be the big breakout story for 2001. I predicate it’s going to see huge growth in this market sector. The big leader, and the one to watch, is going to be Radical Communication. It has the most experience in the field, an excellent new management team, great technology, plus topnotch marketing skills. But let’s not leave the other players out: TMXinteractive, inChorus, Dynamics Direct, and MindArrow are all going to be swept up in Radical’s updraft and do well.

Fortunately, each has staked out a slightly different claim in this space: TMXinteractive’s use of full-screen Flash animation, Dynamics Direct’s personalization play, and MindArrow’s B2B brochure focus.

Prediction 3: Rich media email will be the big breakout story of 2001 and finally make rich media respectable.

Interactive TV

As “Saturday Night Live’s” Franz, the muscle builder, would say, “Hear me now, and believe me later: Interactive TV is going nowhere.” I can’t even find the remote now when I want to change the channel, for Pete’s sake! How am I supposed to find it in order to change the camera angle on “Survivor II”? This prediction doesn’t require being a futurist as much as it requires being a historian. I lived in Pittsburgh when interactive TV was tried there in the early ’80s: It was a failure. I knew people at both Time Warner and SGI during the mid ’90s when it was tried in Florida: It was a failure. The fact is that people have two modes: lean-forward mode (when they’re working at their computers) and lean-back mode (when they’re watching TV). One is active; one is passive. So unlike my predictions for broadband, which we’ll get to next week, my prediction for interactive TV is “not gonna happen.”

Prediction 4: The chances that interactive TV will reach anywhere near widespread adoption in 2001 are equal to the possibility that Bill Gates will be standing in a welfare line in 2001.

Next week: more predictions on in-stream ads, broadband, rich media infrastructure, and more.

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