When All Media Emulate the Web

Does any phrase cause your eyes to glaze over more than “it’s about the user?” Not because it’s not true (it’s very true indeed), but because we’ve all heard this overused adage a bazillion times — and counting — since 1999.

Yet if it’s possible for it’s-about-the-user to take on new meaning, it did this week, simply by virtue of the fact of who was saying it: media moguls, and TV, magazine, and newspaper executives.

Indeed, instead of shutting their eyes tightly and wishing fervently this Whole Internet Thing Would Just Go Away, they’re now strategizing how to dress their old media properties in new media clothing.

Why? They’re looking at the numbers. As Rupert Murdoch observed yesterday morning at the 2007 Media Summit, online represents only about one percent of News Corps’ revenues today. But three to five years out, Murdoch expects the Web to account for 10 percent of the conglomerate’s revenues — and that’s a low ball number that doesn’t take all the Web properties associated with his vast network of print and broadcast holdings into account.

(Meanwhile, at the World Economic Summit in Davos, New York Times Pulisher Arthur Sulzberger was saying, “I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care either. The Internet is a wonderful place to be.”)

The previous morning at the Summit, counter-mogul Barry Diller expressed not dissimilar sentiments. “I never left programming…it’s just different now,” said the TV and feature film veteran, discussing IAC’s planned launch of a portfolio of new Web content properties. “We will invest several hundred million dollars in capital in these kinds of services over the next few years. We’re getting this fusion of pipe capable of carrying video, audio, [etc.] in one stream. It’s the perfect time. Everything will be digitized.”

Ever the programmer, Diller’s first launch is an interesting choice in light of the controversy sparked over take-down orders to YouTube regarding content from Comedy Central’s wildly successful TV properties, “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” Dubbed 23/6, the IAC site will be a spoof of the news of the day.

How Many Centimeters Are in a Liter?

Audience migration patterns are driving this shift in the media landscape, and so is the Web’s degree of marketing accountability. Yet the oh-so-elusive goal of reasonable, cohesive, cross-channel metrics and data is probably the major obstacle on the road to media nirvana (as perceived by media owners and advertisers).

Speaking as the voice of online, Yahoo’s ad chief Wenda Harris Millard boasted, “We’re all metrics, metrics, metrics. The challenge is turning data into real insight, real intelligence. We can help inform media, creative, the product. Turning data into intelligence, we can bring it back to the agency, and back to the client. It’s a different role than the media’s ever played.”

Not that other media wouldn’t mind catching up. They just haven’t yet figured out how to do that or often what precisely to measure. “Measurement is crucial to television being more successful,” said TANDBERG Television‘s Jonathan Bokor. He wants advertisers to “buy and track it through the interface they want to, not something forced on them. We have to make it as easy to buy and track as we possibly can.”

Agency partners don’t disagree. Starcom USA’s VP of Video Innovation, Tracy Scheppach, said, “My agency was missing a deep understanding of data. What does it do to our system to ingest this kind of information?”

Another agency denizen chimed in, “We’re all capturing data, but we’d better do something with it. On receiving those metrics…how do you follow up on it?”

Arguably, that’s one question the online side has yet to answer.

Square Pegs, Round Holes

Metrics and data aren’t the only things difficult to reconcile as old media try to get Webbier. Technology disconnects are manifold, operations a snarl. Consider how many ad serving technologies there are for video alone, then make a plan to feed that video into the Web, a mobile phone (multiple carriers) and the assortment of iTV and VOD platforms out there operated by different MSOs and you quickly get the picture. As Disney SVP Martin Yudkovitz lamented, “All MSOs have different technology, and the networks all have different programs. It’s not going to explode until there’s some level of functional and technical standardization. When it occurs — and it will occur, you’ll see an explosion. In the future, the TV can do anything the computer or mobile phone can do.”

Getting Creative With Ad Formats?

ROO CEO Rob Petty insisted over a cup of coffee that his clients are wholly satisfied with pre-roll video ads, a sentiment not shared by many others at the Summit.

“You see a pre-roll ad, then a video,” lamented Whiteblox‘s Bruce May. “That’s the way we were doing it seven years ago. YouTube wouldn’t be YouTube if they were doing this.”

What are the alternatives? Brightcove is saying overlays are getting popular with their clients, and are a more scalable model to boot. Many media companies — including mobile providers — are proponents of some degree of interactivity in video. Hotspots, for example. Will Griffin of hiphop VOD channel DoD runs eight different ad unit types in his segments. “The veejay, a ticker, bugs…anytime anyone turns on the program, there’s an advertiser message with the content.”

“Media buyers and planners are driving publishers to certain units before creative can come in, Griffin said.

That’s one side of the argument. Disney’s Yudkovitz counters with, “Advertising agency people are human, too. They have so many hours in their days, and objectives they need to achieve. There may be a thousand solutions, but they don’t have time. He called on content providers and broadcasters to create “one-stop shopping for agency media buyers.”

See why this is so hard?

Whoever’s right, this will shake out. As MEC Interaction‘s Rob Norman put it so succinctly, “You underestimate P&G at your peril. You underestimate CBS at your peril. We are strangely flexible Darwinian organisms.”

Meet Rebecca at Search Engine Strategies in London, February 13-15, at ExCel London.

Related reading

nurcin-erdogan-loeffler_wikipedia-definition-the-future_featured-image
pwc_experience-centre_hong-kong_featured-image
12919894_10154847711668475_3893080213398294388_n
kenneth_ning_emarsys_featured-image
<