Media Metrics: The Numbers Don't Lie

When evaluating an advertising opportunity, nothing is more crucial than hard data. Whether deciding to buy broadband video campaign, run a mobile campaign, or estimate how many viewers will fast-forward past ads on DVRs, executives first need to know how widespread the key platforms are. So here's a look at some of the key numbers driving our industry today.

It's widely believed that broadband is fast becoming as commonplace as the VCR - now in around 80 percent of U.S. homes. In fact, while broadband's not there yet, it's well on its way. Last year, 50.6 percent of U.S. homes connected to the Web via high-speed lines, up 14 percent from 2005. By the end of this year, it's forecast to reach 56.3 percent. Dial-up, by contrast, was in just 25.6 percent of U.S. homes as of last year - a figure that's expected to dwindle to 21.9 percent by this year.

Globally, the United States ranks No. 1 for total Internet users (211 million), followed by China, (137 million), Japan (86.3 million), Germany (50.6 million) and India (40 million). But, when you look at the standings based on Internet penetration as a percent of the population overall, Australia ranks first with almost 71 percent, followed by the United States (70 percent), Japan and South Korea (67 percent each), and the Netherlands round out the top five with 66 percent.

The takeaway: If you're looking to build global interactive campaigns, not just u.s.-centric ones, you need to think about access to broadband from a proportional perspective, not just an aggregate number.

Another important consideration when assessing alternative programming, advertising or marketing on platforms other than measurable media is the penetration or adoption of certain technological platforms in the home. The VCR and DVD players have reached maturation levels, with about 80 percent of U.S. homes having the devices. But what about other media platforms? Forrester Research estimates that 80 percent of U.S. households have a personal computer, 79 percent have a mobile phone, 40 percent have a camera phone and 38 percent own a video game console. Home networks penetration has reached 25 percent, while 22 percent have HDTV and 20 percent own a DVR.

Overall, technology usage will be the key to how successful a marketing or advertising effort is. But don't be fooled by high percentages; stop and think about how that technology is being used - the time of day, the individual, the context.

A recent Bear Stearns report pegs the total estimated u.s. advertising spend for 2006 as follows: Internet 3 percent, magazines 5 percent, Yellow Pages 5 percent, network TV 6 percent, cable TV 7 percent, radio 7 percent, spot TV 11 percent, newspapers 17 percent, other 19 percent, and direct mail 21 percent.

Internet advertising, a topic near and dear to me, is experiencing explosive growth. Coupled with the recent buying sprees for advertising technology companies, the next five years will likely solidify the Internet's position as a measurable medium on a par with television.

We've come a long way since the early days of banner ads. Now is the time to think about what needs to be done to continue this aggressive growth and interest. Standards, metrics and measurability all still need to be addressed, especially in online video advertising.

As we look toward the future, what's on the horizon? There are many new opportunities, new formats and new destinations. If we look at the probabilities (versus the possibilities) we might have a better chance of planning for the future.

One area ripe for development is original online programming. Gone will be the days of rehashed, repurposed, regurgitated network or cable programming. There is not only quantity but quality content out there that can draw and sustain audiences. Look at companies like Atom Films, Heavy.com, Break.com and others that are making the leap and servicing their fans. Moreover, original programming brings with it opportunities for brand integration and sponsorship - two very well developed and understood media tactics. But a word of caution: This isn't just rehashed branded entertainment. The audience is savvier, smarter and less tolerant of blatant or egregious uses of brands in programming. Remember: less is more.

Another promising avenue is advergaming. While the term gaming conjures up images of geeks and consoles, that is far from reality. Online games reached over 105 million players in 2005; the majority of online parlor gamers are women, according to JupiterResearch. It has been noted in recent brand-impact studies that integration of a brand into the game is shown to lift key brand metrics, including brand awareness, message association and purchase intent. Consumers are more likely to remember not just the brand or product itself, but to associate specific brand attributes with it after playing the advergame. And, more importantly, the advergame industry is expected to generate $312.2 million by 2009, up from $83.6 million in 2004, according to The Yankee Group.

All in all, the future looks bright. And while everything online is all the rage, once again, let's not forget about the lessons we learned a mere seven years ago when the world seemed rosy and ripe with opportunity. So tread lightly, my friends. We still have a long way to go, but it ought to be one heck of a ride.