Whatever Happened To Rich Media?

For many years the rich-media space was a hotbed of activity. All the usual suspects were out in the marketplace duking it out for the top spot. Eyeblaster, Eyewonder, Pointroll, Klipmart, United Virtualities, Doubleclick: all of these companies were investing in new technology and the development of new ideas that would make digital creative units pop and generate impact in the eyes of the consumer. Yet somewhere along the way, through consolidation and a focus on data and ad networks, they seem to have lost their luster.

You may argue, but let me make my case.

When was the last time you heard of a truly innovative development in rich media? When was the last time a rich media company pitched you on an idea that was groundbreaking and truly unique?

The category itself suffers from a sense of pessimism, and the selection of a rich-media partner these days tends to come down to two things: relationships and price. Media strategists recommend the companies and people they like doing business with and the partners that can come to the table with the most efficient pricing. There is very little reason to pay a premium for a service that has become commoditized, and the category is not doing much to prove this model wrong.



The apparent growth in the category is coming from these companies morphing into traditional ad servers. This is indeed an opportunity, because some digital players don't want to partner with the big dogs (namely Google/Doubleclick and Atlas). While I recognize that ad serving is a huge opportunity and a natural complement for rich-media vendor services, isn't that a step backwards?

You can't tell me that we've seen all of the innovation we're going to see in rich media. I can't live with the thought that what we have now is what we'll have in the years to come. Is the Web page as it stands the way the Web page will be in the future? What happened to offering rich media across multiple platforms, including location-based screens, mobile and integrated into video? What about the development of truly socially enabled units that integrate Facebook Connect and other elements so integral to the growth of the Web? What about just giving us something different?

The ad network space may have something to do with this, as most ad networks have restrictions on the size and capabilities that rich media can have, and far too many media plans are reliant on ad network buys. Still, I have to believe the future involves more creativity than that. The future of digital advertising involves syndication of content and social functionality, and rich media needs to start thinking that way as well.

The immediate response to this article will be postings on the Spin Board and direct emails to my inbox from rich-media salespeople wanting to share all of the "innovation" in their models. But before you hit send on that message, I would ask you to take an objective eye to your offering. Are you really doing something different, or are you splitting hairs on an already established idea? Innovation can be painful, and sometimes you need to hear some painful words in order to take that exciting step forward. Maybe this is that time?

Have you seen anything exciting in rich media as of late? Let us know!

12 comments about "Whatever Happened To Rich Media? ".
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  1. John Friesen from Blue Giant Media, March 3, 2010 at 1:55 p.m.

    Hmmm. I don't see much wrong with "web pages" as a communication medium that attention to usability can't fix. I'm not sure about all the rich media bells and whistles, though. Just because it is possible to do amazing things doesn't mean there is a large market for it. Take books, for instance, a tried and true medium: print on paper bound in a cover of some kind. I remember experiments with unbound books that permitted you to shuffle the pages for a "new and unique" read every time you picked it up -- sort of a 'rich media' book experience. Don't see them around any more. In other words, I don't think I care a swallow's fart about rich media, unless it is happening so naturally that I'm not really conscious of it, but just using it.

  2. Walter Sabo from SABO media, March 3, 2010 at 1:57 p.m.

    The key word is "technology" the investors tragically wasted their money on developing tech and patents and not content and not supporting creatives. Always the fatal error. Want to see your money vanish? Place it on the "sure bet" of proprietary hardware and patents.

  3. The digital Hobo from, March 3, 2010 at 2 p.m.

    You nailed the issue on the head. I wont blame the ad nets directly, though. I blame the agency planners and buyers who want "one stop shopping" for nearly every impression they buy.

    The rich media companies used to be great at partnering with premium publishers to offer unique creative opportunities. But now that buyers don't want to only run on their Top 5 sites, they need creative that works there as well.

    That said, just about every significant publisher accepts rich media. However, the publishers have severely curtailed the level of creativity allowed. They simply wont let you execute on the "over the top" ideas that we used to see, like "The Hulk" shaking your browser and "cracking" your screen.

    Market pressures have forced the rich media guys to play with total commodity pricing, and the agencies are continually looking for the "one platform" that can handle their display, search, and video through one dashboard.

    On the creative front, though, you are absolutely correct. Total hair splitting. If its in Flash, you can probably do it, no matter what the "it" is. Fighting over what format to call it is another issue.

  4. Stephen Shearin from ionBurst Media, March 3, 2010 at 2:02 p.m.

    IMHO, it's one part the fact that methods of advertising online as a whole (specifically display - standard or rich) need to be reconsidered. And one part ROI. Rich media doesn't generally improve ROI or ROAS. When you get all the hands in the pie for Rich Media, and then can't run it everywhere even at increased prices, the success metrics just don't warrant the expense in many cases.

  5. Michael Mcmahon from ROI Factory / Quick Ops, March 3, 2010 at 2:18 p.m.

    I think it's weak creative effort. It doesn't do us much good to have all these bells and whistles when the great majority of creatives have very little interest in rolling up their sleeves to understand the capabilities and to exploit them fully. Sure the ad networks and the focus on ROI have an impact, but how many of the advertisers who claim that they have to focus on digital ROI are BLOWING money on television? How many of them could divert 1% of their TV budgets to Rich Media, (which is FAR more accountable than TV) and see significant impacts on their brand, their engagement, their recall -- you pick the metric. (Hey, it's 15 years later and we're STILL begging for TV scraps.) When big agency creatives start paying more attention to rich media capabilities, I believe we may finally see it come into it's own. Until then, Hey, we can put our :30s on Hulu!!

  6. Jon Collins from Eyeblaster, March 3, 2010 at 2:23 p.m.


    You are almost right with your logic, however the main reason we are not seeing the continued innovation in rich media is the reluctance of the PUBLISHERS and them allowing their "user experience" teams to define new and exciting formats. This has been the case for the last two-three years. Eyeblaster continues to come up with new and exciting ad units and most of the time, these new ad units are never approved to run on North American publishers and inventory. We do not have these problems in any of our other global markets with many of the same publishers.

    If you can dream, we can serve it with our technology, problem is that publishers have a hard time moving forward with new units. There are a few, but most have issues and those people should retire already.

    You can review the latest innovations here:

    As always, I enjoyed the article and banter!


  7. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., March 3, 2010 at 3:28 p.m.

    When was the last time anybody out there pitched something innovative and had the whole room light up with "that's a great idea!" Rich media concepts and innovation come from individuals as corporations (and agencies) can usually find a billion reasons (just talk to the project manager) NOT to do something. All the "new ideas" on the web that I hear people yammering on about here (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.) were started by one or two people outside the mainstream development community. By the way - props to John from Blue Giant Media for the statement "I don't think I care a swallow's fart about rich media", reminds me of the guys in the newspaper industry saying "those fancy computers will never replace ink on paper".

  8. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., March 3, 2010 at 3:29 p.m.

    By the way, to the guy from Eyeblaster - you appear to have "new and innovative" confused with "more annoying flash than you can stomach on the home page of Yahoo". And no, I don't want to see the demo.

  9. Richard Monihan, March 3, 2010 at 3:52 p.m.

    When I worked at AOL in the early part of this decade, we always laughed at the 6 month "fads" that surrounded advertising online.
    These fads have continued, but I'm not sure there is a real timeline like there used to be. Currently, the "fad" is "give me something unique" or "innovative" - about as vague a request as possible.

    Occasionally something truly unique DOES occur. It's rare. When it does, people take note and try to imitate.

    But in the long run, the standard stuff is going to reign supreme. Rich Media is good, and will always have a place, but it's only going to be "better" in the sense that one Geico's "Caveman" ads are "better" than their "Gecko" ads. That is, it's going to be a matter of taste and desired visibility.

  10. Dean Donaldson from Eyeblaster, March 3, 2010 at 5:17 p.m.

    That digital billboard in the middle of Tokyo that has a game on it that can be controlled via cursor keys on YouTube or via mobile dial-in… that’s rich media.

    That addressable ad on Korean TV that is now showing the brand of soda that you just put in the bin five minutes ago via RFID reader… that’s rich media.

    That interactive ad appearing on the Future Store floor in Germany directing you to which aisle you can purchase the 2 for 1 offer… that’s rich media.

    That interactive BluRay Live in UK pulling down the latest trailers and then lets you chat with connected fans all around the world… that’s rich media.

    That real-time dynamic interactive ad in the back of a New York taxi that shows you how close you are to the advertisers store via GPS… that’s rich media.

    That ad on the fridge screen. That ad in the wi-fi enabled digital photo frame. That ad on the in-car ents system. That video ad on an iPad… that’s rich media.

    Or are we all still debating the value of banners in browsers with vendors over a free lunch? The world of rich media has already moved on… You buy the beer, and I’ll blow your mind.

  11. Katie Smillie from, March 4, 2010 at 3:55 p.m.

    Check out Seth Goldstein's presentation from the recent IAB annual leadership meeting, it's on SlideShare here:

    In it Seth presents's vision of Ads 2.0 and our new ad technology which enables deep integration with social graphs from across the web using platforms like Facebook Connect, and also integrating location-based data from services like Foursquare and Yelp. We've added a lot of these capabilities in recent months and we have much more planned!

    I'll be manning the exhibit booth for at OMMA Global in SF. Come by and visit if you are there!

  12. Catherine Spurway from PointRoll, March 8, 2010 at 10:14 p.m.

    Hi Cory -- thanks for starting this discussion. As you predicted, many folks have responded with their thoughts on innovation in rich media.

    What I believe is key to innovation (and how I’ve really seen this medium evolve) is that it is not necessarily the technology/format, but how it is applied to solve a marketer’s challenge while continuing to respect the user. Technology for the sake of technology doesn’t drive creativity or ad effectiveness. It’s meeting each marketer's particular goals and the consumer's need by integrating the brand message in a relevant and meaningful way across the marketing mix -- not one digital piece.

    For example, you’re moderating an upcoming panel at OMMA Global on how BT is being leveraged to optimize results – that’s a great example of the innovation occurring in the rich media space. Leveraging Yahoo, AOL and other publisher BT data combined with rich capabilities to deliver interactive, creative, relevant, targeted and optimized rich media experiences on the fly across display, social, search and mobile – all with the goal of improving ad effectiveness – is innovation.

    Beyond dynamic ad generation, here are a few more specific examples of how brands have been innovating with rich media in the last year (copy and paste link into browser to view ad example).

    Mobile rich media expandable ads with video, tap to call and more:

    Augmented reality:

    Syndicated content pulled into the rich media unit from several Conde Nast sites:

    Interactive video:

    Publisher page integrations:
    Social networking :

    Delivering more engaging, targeted, relevant, and eye-catching experiences across multiple digital platforms while generating a noticeable lift in performance is far from a commodity. That's what rich media is doing for Ford, H&R Block, Walmart, P&G and thousands more marketers everyday.

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