Market Focus: Music Sites

by , May 1, 2001, 12:00 AM
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The sector ranges from entertainment powerhouses like MTV and Rolling Stone to music retailers and file-sharing sites.

Music sites were some of the first to be developed online, promoting pop-single releases, CDs, posters, and an assortment of related products. Older demos also gravitate to music sites, but not with the fervor or regularity of teenagers and 20-somethings. But according to Autumn Martin, media buyer in the San Francisco office of Exile on 7th, older demos are “much more responsive,” and are more likely to transact.

According to the Internet Advertising Bureau’s survey of online advertising, in the first three quarters of 2000, $1.8 billion was spent in consumer sectors. Music sites commanded 6 percent, or $109 million, of that total. Of five consumer sectors tabulated by the IAB, music ranks third, behind automotive and travel, and ahead of amusements and toys.

The sector is not without volatility and even controversy, as two major online players, content sharers MP3 and Napster, have taken major legal hits over piracy and unauthorized distribution claims. But their court fights have kept the whole sector on the front pages of entertainment news, a phenomenon that has boosted the sector’s profile in these lean times.

Rory O’Connor, national media director at Beyond Interactive, reports that the music sector has been resilient in a depressed market, noting that “it’s hard to tell who has money to spend online right now.” He predicts continued consolidation in the sector.

As to ads that work these days, O’Connor says that the answer depends upon the client’s goal. Some sites, such as RollingStone.com, “allow for rich-media placements within the content,” he says, “and that can be useful for clients seeking to brand themselves. But when we divert traffic from music sites, the results vary across different calls to action that the creatives are speaking to.”

Competitive Media Reporting’s AdRatings, which tabs ad revenue totals by unique site, lists the top music sites for full year 2000 as MTV.com with $3.2 million, its sibling Sonicnet.com, also with $3.2 million, its other sibling VH1.com with $1.8 million, and Billboard.com with $1.65 million. Some of these totals might be approached by revenues spent at music areas of the major portals and entertainment companies. Yahoo, the Excite network, Sony, Warner Brothers, and Universal, each have a well-developed online music presence, but none as prominent as Paramount’s, led by MTV.

The younger demos are online targets for a dizzying array of products and services, most notably ISPs, lifestyle magazines, health care and grooming products, financial services, cars, electronics, and travel offerings. And predictably, recording artists are promoted at music-retailer sites. Conversely, music retailers try to steer traffic their way by advertising at music URLs of the recording companies.

Categorically, running ads on music sites appeals on a couple of levels, O’Connor says. He recommends that buyers target registered consumers with relevant ads and find consumers through viral email services, which “worked in a campaign that tried to reach MP3 users interested in indie rock bands.” Martin’s colleague at Exile, buying supervisor Scott Symonds, adds that the agency looked at this demo mostly for packaged, multimedia deals. Companies like Rolling Stone and Sony have been pretty good about including promotional elements, some print, some online, some television, and some ancillary placements as well, he says, noting that it is a buyers’ market and that “some people are still clinging to older CPM models” that are unrealistic today.

O’Connor warns that on a site as sticky as MTV, it’s not as easy to divert traffic, because the users are so engrossed in the content. A better solution is to lean toward content integration, sponsorships, and interactivity that does not require the user to leave the site. As to specific message content, punch-the-monkey programs got some solid click-throughs, but O’Connor suggests that the best way to convey a message is: do not be deceptive, make it a simple call to action with an incentive. Given the medium and the nature of the placement, if your “creative has inherent entertainment value, you’ll get a better response from users.”

O’Connor says that banner ads still work with low-cost inventory, and are effective for spots that are not as rich, but he predicts “we’re not going to see as many static GIF banners.” He also says there is untapped potential for direct selling of CDs and other music products. An informal survey of music sites revealed a smattering of banner ads, mostly revolving types. Among these were spots at MTV.com for rock club chain House of Blues, a Visa-sponsored spot at SonyMusic.com for the latest album by an R&B singer, a credit card spot at Billboard.com, and a cellphone ad at RollingStone.com.

Martin reports that she recently placed a buy with MTV.com, where the value proposition is skewed to a demo as young as 14, and another with RollingStone.com. Young users seem to prefer visual prompts. At RollingStone, the “photo sections are more popular than music information sections,” she says. When Martin looks for rich media, she too believes she is more likely to find opportunities at the big entertainment company sites, citing the WB group and the Sony group. She has run registration campaigns at both MTV.com and VH1.com, and found the latter to deliver better numbers.

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