The Ebb and Flow of Life and Rich Media

Can I be metaphysical for a second? It’ll only happen once a year, I promise. This week’s been a wild one in my house: Within a 10-hour period, my father-in-law died, and my niece had her first child, making me a great-uncle. It always seems to me that this is the way things work in life or business: One door closes, another opens. Which brings me (as it always does) to rich media and online advertising.

This week also dealt a serious blow to one of the pioneers of online advertising, and at the same time, I witnessed the birth of an exciting new online advertising unit that I predict is going to really shake things up.

Back in October, I made some predictions for 2001, one of which is that I stated this would be a make-or-break year for Enliven, the grandfather of the rich media banner. This week, parent company Excite@Home, facing a huge quarterly loss of $4.6 billion, announced it would be laying off employees and divesting itself of some of its business units, including Enliven. While assuring me that the “lights are not out at Enliven,” an Excite spokesperson also stated that Excite would be looking to divest itself of Enliven “as soon as possible.”

Dij` Vu

Well, since I was in this exact situation before when I worked at the Cosmo Software division of Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on at Enliven right now. In fact, it’s eerie how similar the two situations are (and that Tom Jermoluk left both companies, Excite and SGI, soon before their demise).

The parent company goofs up bigtime and needs to say something positive to the investors, something that makes it look like it’s taking action. It looks around for a couple of expendable assets and announces that come hell or high water, these “noncore” units will be off the books “as soon as possible.”

Which is exactly what happened to Cosmo. It was about to announce a huge deal with one of SGI’s biggest clients when the pronouncement came down from on high that it was being booted out of the nest. As a result, the deal went south, and, suddenly, it was fire-sale time for poor old Cosmo.

Companies in this situation are not thinking clearly. Rather than think things through to maximize their investment, their knee-jerk reaction is to divest, divest, divest, as quickly as possible. Just get rid of some ballast, and the ship will right itself. And, as everyone knows, being a panicked seller is not the best negotiating position to be in. Cosmo was sold for scrap, but it should have been a crown jewel. And SGI never recovered.

Enliven, being way the hell across the country in Massachusetts, didn’t have a chance. And now Excite has pretty much guaranteed Enliven a rough road ahead if the company wants to spin out or be acquired. But I hope Enliven makes it, and I wish the company well. For one thing, Enliven is a company that is used to reinventing itself. Maybe there is one last trick in the old dog yet.

Hot New Ad Units

Which, as James Joyce would say, “brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to” the new CNET ads that started up this week. A few weeks ago, CNET announced its new 100 x 100 Flash-based ad units, premiered them this week by running a few house ads explaining how the ads work, then promptly rolled out campaigns for Sun and Oracle that use the new units to great advantage.

Centered right in the line of sight in the center of the page, these new units are VERY eye-catching. And totally interactive. I couldn’t help playing with them. I found myself scrolling through the ads and asking myself if I did indeed have a burning need for an Oracle 9i Application Server.

Other publishers have jumped on board, including ZDNet (acquired recently by CNET), New York Times Digital, and anyone else who has a brain. It’s prediction time: These ads are hot and will be the ad units of choice in six months! Ignore my predictions at your peril.

Until next week, keep it rich!

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