Define Online In An Ever-Changing World
Summertime is in full swing. I know this for a fact, because I played golf on Monday, and the course was packed--on a Monday! I wanted to mention the summer because I find that when you're away from your computer the most, that's when you realize just how digital the world has become, and how the terms we use to define it need to be updated.
What I propose as a result of my "stress-free" summer is that we update our definition of the word "online." If we start by going back to the dictionary (specifically dictionary.com), we find the definition as follows:
on·line or on-line: a. Under the control of a central computer, as in a manufacturing process or an experiment. b. Connected to a computer or computer network. c. Accessible via a computer or computer network: an online database.
Looking at this definition in its truest form, we come to realize that online is everything with a two-way opportunity for a digital data exchange (primarily because the definition of a computer has changed). Now this may seem obvious to you as you read this--but when most media professionals are asked, "what are your capabilities in online?" their response is focused on the Internet and the computer screen--when in fact online's reach is much greater. I propose that we begin to use the term to include all of these digital forms of media, or else shift our attention to the broader term of "digital."
The syndicated data sources our industry uses focus their research on this myopic vision for the definition of online. The data detailing ad spend focuses on Web site advertising, but doesn't take into account mobile and some of the more bleeding-edge online resources. I can understand why, as many of these digital elements represent evolutionary stages of existing "traditional" media, but I believe the time is coming over the next 18 months for the industry to begin to package online together with the emerging elements of new media: digital outdoor, mobile, gaming, desktop applications, etc. These all need to be measured--and while I know the research companies are looking into this, I would propose that we package them together under the header of online. After all, each of these elements represents the evolution of the term online itself, in that it's a two-way exchange of data using digital means. If not online, then how about at least using the term "digital," which covers all of these elements?
What I foresee happening is that the piece of the pie allocated to online or digital is going to continue to increase, but the overall allocation of media dollars may not shift from TV and outdoor to the Internet; instead, they will shift to the digital components of their own formats. This means TV will be replaced by digital TV, outdoor will be replaced with digital outdoor, and so on and so forth. This evolutionary spending will be important, as it will signal the industry shift towards accountable media. It may take time, but that's OK. It took time for the Internet to become a powerful element of the overall media mix, so our patience will be rewarded.
What I'm getting at here is that media is continuing to change--and rather than debate the buzzwords and the efficacy of this format over the other, it's important that we focus on the holistic planning process. Rather than worry about how big the piece of the pie is that's allocated to "online," let's just accept that eventually ALL media will be digital, or at least the lion's share of it will be. Change the names now to protect the innocent, and let's get back to the fun stuff--strategy... and playing golf!
What do you think?