In December, and with little fanfare in America, a milestone in telecommunications occurred. Data transfer surpassed voice in the United States.
In Europe this was, of course, old news. In Europe, cell phone use outstrips land lines in countries like Finland, which boasts more Internet access per person than any other nation. Yes, the globe is going digital, and one standard — the Internet Protocol (IP) — will soon reign supreme.
That same month, I traveled to London to learn about the latest UK ITV test beds being developed by enterprises like Rupert Murdoch’s SkyTV. Under the aegis of MindShare Digital, a hybrid media venture linking Ogilvy & Mather and JWT, we were testing convergence for several client brands including Unilever, Ford and IBM.
Back home, experiments such as WebTV, @Home, and Worldgate are fighting for market share with different set-top solutions. While the cable modem battles the telcos, it is becoming increasingly clear that the dominant ITV test beds in the United States support IP. And, those that don’t, soon will or else.
It is predicted that there will be between 600MM to 800MM mobile phones, Personal MultiMedia (PMM) and other “pervasive” systems in operation by the year 2002. These devices will merge telephony with today’s primitive PDA technology. Within two years, you will be able to access a train schedule and buy your ticket, as well as access the text and graphics, and enjoy all the e-commerce functionality inherent in the web.
While ITV (converging TV, phone and PC/Internet access) will require more time to reach significant penetration in the US (within three to four years), low-bandwidth, mobile pervasive devices will reach critical mass within the next two years. Like the PC in the office or home/office, and the ITV unit in tomorrow’s living room, the next generation of hand-held, pervasive devices being designed by Ericson and Nokia , Motorola, 3COM and Korea Samsung, rely upon the IP syntax.
Today, relational databases auto-publish and personalize content to the web for access by PCs. In the not-too-distant future, servers will parse this data flow of infotainment and distribute it three ways to feed the access devices of the new millennium – the office PC, ITV at home, and pervasive devices on the road.
But it doesn’t come free. In Finland, Spammers already send messages to personal “communicators.” And legislation is already pending there to prevent unauthorized parties from buying up phone lists and Spamming unsuspecting hand-helds.
Just like PC-based web content, this stream of infotainment will require advertising and e-commerce to sustain it. That’s why advertising agencies like ours is already experimenting with IP.
Plan Now for the Revolution
For the first time in human history, one global telecommunications standard — one global electronic syntax — will support all of the access devices destined to dominate in the future. Facing this next paradigm, agencies must organize now. It’s critical to prepare in a variety of ways. Let me share our approach.
OgilvyInteractive is organized worldwide around a network of multi-disciplinary “convergence teams,” representing each of the dominant specialties. We have activated specialists in markets where the test beds are most advanced. In the UK and US, we are working with a number of ITV test beds. MindShare Digital in London is running tests with SkyTV on behalf of clients. OgilvyInteractive in New York is working with a number of US test beds, including @home.
Here’s what we are learning: What will people pay for ITV? What will they want, and when? What will they accept, and what’s the value-add?
In Finland and North America, we have built teams dedicated to pervasive systems. In Helsinki, we are experimenting with the latest operating systems, including one developed by Symbian and used in Nokia’s new generation of cell phone/PDAs.
In North America, working with partners GTE and IBM, we are learning the market dynamics, how the services will be positioned and rolled out, the bundles and the packages. We are also playing with the new pervasive operating systems, linking them to the same relational databases that drive our PC and ITV expressions.
There are no rules. We’re making it up as we go along. That’s why it’s imperative to test operating and operational systems, hardware platforms, delivery devices, channels and creative. Only by exploring will one discover the right path.
Keep your eye on the prize. Set the ground rules for engagement. Stay focused on IP because what doesn’t meet the standard won’t succeed.
Agencies that master the literature of these new venues will prosper in the new millennium. It’s where the eyeballs will be. Agencies that don’t plan, prepare and marshal their resources, who don’t experiment and learn to master IP, will not only fail to prosper tomorrow they’ll be plain out of business.