The Forms of Rich Media: Part 1

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the basic building-block technologies that make up the rich media landscape. (For those of you studying for the Blue Book exam, these include Java, audio, video, vector graphics [i.e., flash], DHTML, Shockwave and cursors.)

I am going to start our serious analysis of rich media by examining some of the major players and showing how the fundamental technologies stack together to form the basic rich media ad delivery forms, including interstitials, beyond-the-banner banners, cursors, rich media email and others.

Let’s start with the interesting world of interstitials. “Interstitial” refers to a thing that comes between something else. In the case of online advertising, this is a message that pops up between two pages of editorial content.

For many people, interstitials hold the dubious distinction of being one of the most annoying forms of advertising on the face of the planet. In an informal poll, most people said they would rather watch an hour-long infomercial for Popeil’s “Hair in a Can” than be bombarded with interstitials. (Of course, with the magic of the web, you can actually combine these two experiences: I just surfed the Ronco.com site in order to find the proper spelling for the name “Popeil,” and was hit with an interstitial for spray cans of GLH Formula #9 hair restorer!)

One of the most famous examples of interstitial advertising is in the online version of the game “You Don’t Know Jack,” which pops up interstitial advertising in between trivia rounds.

The problem with the delivery of most interstitial advertising has been that the message begins streaming in at the same time the next piece of editorial content is also trying to load, delaying access to the new page. To minimize this delay, interstitials were normally small in size, which limited their impact to rather bland GIF images.

This has all changed, however, with the introduction of the “Superstitial” from the 800-pound rich-media gorilla Unicast. The New York-based company has basically redefined the interstitial format by imbuing it with the power of rich media, combined with a seamless, non-intrusive delivery mechanism.

With the Superstitial, an ad network (such as DoubleClick or 24/7 Media) or a web site (like USA Today or CBS Sportsline) could put up a piece of code that delivers a 30k agent in the background to the viewer’s web browser. This agent, which resides in the browser’s cache and remains resident until the cache is flushed, begins downloading the Superstitial ad in the background, but – and this is key – only when no other editorial content is downloading.

In other words, it never interferes with the web-surfing experience by causing a delay to the editorial content. Any size file can be downloaded in the background (up to a self-imposed 100k limit), and the Superstitial launches only when the download is complete.

Ahh, but when it does pop up (when you move to a new page), it REALLY pops up! Commercial-length animations, robust interactive transactional engines, you name it: Superstitials are the richest of the rich.

Rich media ad technologies such as Java, Flash, HTML and Audio are supported within the Superstitial, as well as long-form animated GIFs. According to Unicast VP of Marketing Allie Shaw (a woman who really needs to cut back on the Starbucks), click-through rates for Superstitials range from seven to 40 percent, and 50 percent of people viewing Superstitials either interact with the ad or watch the entire message before clicking off.

I must tell you, though, it is obvious to those who have seen them that Superstitials are a fantastic branding tool, so the obsessive focus on click-through numbers seems a bit silly in the case of the Superstitial.

Never one to miss a “Super” opportunity, Unicast will be running the “Superstitial Showdown” in conjunction with – what else? – the Super Bowl. People tuning into www.SuperShowDown.com will be able to view three Superstitial ads sponsored by MCI, Universal Pictures and Kforce.com to become eligible to win $10,000.

Unicast’s success in turning a sow’s ear into a gold-filled silk purse has apparently inspired another titan in the rich media space, Enliven, to get inter-ested in inter-stitials.

Enliven – or as it’s known in the industry, Enlivenmatchlogicexcitepartridgeinapeartree@home – has just done a soft launch of its own interstitial technology, just in case anyone might be interested. It sees interstitials working best when people enter and leave chat rooms, a place where traditional banners have yet to become successful.

Enliven, however, is much more famous for some of its beyond-the-banner technology. But we’ll get into that can of worms the week after next.

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