Stretching Out: Technology and Advertising in 2010

Every so often I write a column that looks forward a few years to predict the future. I’m taking another stab at it this year.

Rear Window

First, let’s look back on my 2000 five-year predictions and see how I did:

  • Unlimited long distance will be free in the next five years.

    Phone companies are continually expanding their programs for single-rate long distance coverage, but VOIP (define) really captured this prediction and ran with it. With telco-modeled firms such as Vonage; and free communications tools, such as Skype, MSN Messenger, AIM, and Yahoo Messenger; free voice communications are enjoyed by millions of people every day.

  • Cable operators will integrate PVRs (define) into digital cable boxes. Pausing TV (and skipping commercials) will be the norm.

    Not only are DVRs (define) integrated into cable boxes, the whole notion of on-demand TV viewing really took off this year. We now have a plethora of choices when it comes to TV content and how we’ll consume it, and an immense amount of control.

  • Rich media advertising will become the norm online, if only because iTV audiences aren’t going to respond to animated GIFs. Even without iTV, it will happen in the next five years.

    It did happen without iTV, which is only just now starting to explode. Rich media (depending on your definition) is certainly the norm now. Most ads are Flash-based, which is a minimum bar for using the term “rich media.” But for any kind of compelling brand advertising, rich media is the standard.

  • Some technology advance is going to radically change the way the Web works and affects our daily lives, and it will be completely unexpected. This could happen any time, but certainly within five years.

    I realize this one was vague, and it’s certainly a truism (one I’ll include in every list of predictions going forward!). Following, just four unexpected technologies that radically changed the way the Web works to the extent that they affect our daily lives:

    • IM. It was around back then but has really taken off in the past five years.

    • Peer-to-peer file sharing. From Napster to BitTorrent, the world will never be the same again.
    • Mapping. We all thought MapQuest was so cool, but Virtual Earth and Google Earth changed the game completely.
    • Search. Google was barely known in 2000.

Front Window

Here are four new predictions for the next five years:

  • Free Wi-Fi networks will eclipse digital cellular networks in coverage, sparking a revolution in free calling over IP-based networks. Portable digital information consumption devices will also explode.

  • Most TV content will be consumed over the Internet by download, and on demand over very high speed broadband networks. The TV networks will do just fine, and most content will be consumed for free with advertising, just as it is today.
  • Advertising will be much more relevant and effective due to appropriately implemented targeting and filtering technologies that will anonymously identify people across all media. Ultimately (maybe more than five years out), this type of targeting will extend across all forms of advertising, even what today is considered offline.
  • Some technology advance will radically change the way the world works, and it will be completely unexpected. This could happen any time, but certainly within five years.

I’ll even go so far as to guess at some of the technologies that may drive these changes. A huge area of expansion is printable technology.

OLED (define) technology is one of my favorite new areas for speculation. Essentially, the current crop of OLED technology makes flat-panel displays much cheaper because the display is literally printed onto a sheet of glass or plastic by industrial inkjet printers. A big plus is the display is flexible, so a foldable or rollable display is finally possible. But that’s just the beginning.

Last month, Siemens announced a new type of video display that can be printed on paper or cardboard. It’s so inexpensive, it will be used in books, magazines, packaging, tickets, and so on. Interestingly, it will utilize already available printable batteries. This makes the whole process very easy to produce — and very cheap.

Get ready for video everywhere, literally. Video ads will show up on cereal boxes, food wrappers, and all sorts of packaging. Also expect clothing, wallpaper, bedding, even paint to have video capabilities. This will lead to a revolution in information display, mapping, directions, and (of course) entertainment.

Let’s not forget RFID (define) tags and other tracking technologies, such as two-dimensional bar codes. These tools will change forever the way we interact with the world. In the next five years, the rules of engagement around these technologies will start to become established.

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