Getting in the Stream

Every month it seems I’m getting a notice from the Center for Media Research presenting me with the latest streaming audio data, with a quote or two from someone extolling the virtues of streaming audio and what a powerful advertising medium it could be.

Every month I hear from broadband enthusiasts and streaming media hopefuls about how widening the pipe in the home is going to open up all kinds of advertising opportunities and will FINALLY bring the traditional advertiser online and bring to the industry all the money to which traditional broadcast, namely TV, unfairly lays claim. And streamed media will toll the death knell for what I like to call “flat format” online advertising, i.e. banners, tiles, etc.

The funny thing is, the arguments for streaming media sound more and more like tired lamentations than zealous advocacy. The positioning of streaming media also looks a lot like the way banners and their ilk were being set to the community in online media’s early days. How we need a bigger piece of the advertising budget pie, how we are going to bury the media types of yore… Conventional online advertising hummed the same tune for a long time, and much of their song remains the same.

But just what does the streaming media segment of the industry need to do to get advertisers to seriously consider streaming media when putting together media and marketing plans?

A small part of the problem is this: those selling streaming media advertising opportunities can’t find the right person to talk to. Do they go to the client’s traditional agency, since most streaming media opportunities resemble broadcast and so might be more readily understood by traditional media planners? Do they go to the interactive agency, or unit within a traditional agency, since streaming media comes to us through our computers and is carried on the Internet?

This particular problem will be solved A) as agency personnel integrate, B) buzz about streaming media (especially audio) continues, and C) streaming media figures out just what kind of media it actually is.

Though Arbitron Webcast Services (May, 2001) found that Webcasters themselves think the lack of reliable 3rd party metrics is holding advertisers back, I think that this is not a root cause, but rather, incidental. For example, let’s pretend I have the metrics. Now what?

I think what it really is going to take to get advertisers involved with streaming is some answer to the question, "Why streaming?"

The problem with streaming is not a dearth of data showing that audiences are there and growing. No one is having a hard time finding proof that large numbers of people with Internet access are streaming media (namely audio). The lack of third-party metrics doesn’t really cast any doubt on the fact that streaming media is big, big, BIG!

What is at the heart of the question, "Why streaming?," is instead a dearth of understanding about just what it is that streaming media brings to the media mix table that other media does not. What can streaming media do for me, as an advertiser, that broadcast, both TV and radio, cannot? In what ways does streaming media fill in? How does it compare to other media, in its communicative value, its efficiency, its ability to affect volume of product engagement (shopping, information requests, sales, etc.)?

These are the questions that we have to begin answering to get advertisers involved beyond the random experiment on an Internet radio channel. Just beginning to find answers will go a long way towards luring advertisers into the space.

One thing we need to keep in mind as all media, both digital and otherwise, continues to fragment is that total budgets for advertising overall are never likely to grow as fast as the proliferation of media types. If existing budgets were spread across all the various general media types that we now have at our disposal, those budgets would be thinner than Grandma's underpants.

Ideally, we'd all love to see the pie grow, but truth be told, for the foreseeable future, monies will likely shift between media, and streaming as a format will have to prove that it can deliver where all other traditional and standard online media cannot.

My guess is that advertisers that can be lured in are going to be those that look at streaming at first as a supplement to spot or network radio schedules, as if it were like one big at-work mid-day daypart.

This is a big challenge, but I don't doubt streaming is going to be important to the media mix.

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