Rich Media Is Not the Story; Broadband Is

It was reported in eMarketer's "Portal Update: 2005" this week that the big story in online advertising as the year unfolds will no longer be search marketing, but rather, spending on rich media.

According to the report, "rich media advertising will grow more quickly than paid search in 2005."

Though I am heartened to see focus taken off of search marketing for a heartbeat or two, I'm not sure that it should settle on rich media though. I'll tell you why.

There is no doubt that more and more online advertising will be classified as "rich media" in the coming year. But this is not going to happen as a result of changes in intent and strategy. The more frequent appearance of rich media in the online media environment is incidental to changes in means and methods of access, namely, the ubiquity of broadband.

Focusing on the spread of rich media's use in online advertising is like focusing on ad formats changing from verbal endorsements to visual narratives instead of media usage shifting from radio to television.



Broadband's growing penetration and the Internet's perpetuity is the real story here, not rich media. The online advertising trade press has talked to itself about rich media since GIF89s and the HTML pull-down menu banner.

The lather the industry used to work itself into is finally justified: images have more texture, interactivity is more robust, and video is finding comfortable if sometimes derivative usage in online ad campaigns. Broadband is the reason rich media is actualizing its early promises, not a shift in business paradigms or flutters of the marketing Zeitgeist. The desire to fly has almost always been with us; the means by which to do it have not.

Though eMarketer will release a study about broadband and its usage later this year, Bolt released the results of a survey conducted during the fourth quarter of last year (reported on eMarketer's site, oddly enough). According to the survey, 70 percent of 15- to 22-year-old Internet users accessed the Internet with a broadband connection.

According to the results of a Harris Interactive poll released in September of 2004, 44 percent of adults online regularly accessed the Internet through a broadband connection. Though there is overlap in the demographic of the studies (Bolt's 15 to 22 versus Harris Interactive's 18 plus), there is no denying that broadband is becoming, and will soon be, the de rigueur means of access to the Internet for most of the population.

It took television over 40 years to become a 24/7 medium. Even still, the device is typically not on that long. The Internet has been 24/7 practically since inception. As a medium, the Internet benefits from behavior that has developed around its means of end-user engagement, i.e. leaving one's computer on at all times.

With broadband content, transmission, and reception will never have to end. I can look up antonyms for "pernicious" while writing a column at 4 p.m., or information about whether the Priory of Sion is a hoax or not while watching The History Channel's "Beyond the Da Vinci Code" at 3 in the morning.

THIS is what marketing professionals interested in the future eventually need to focus on. The implications of a perpetual medium that is brought from the background of everydayness to the foreground of individual experience as quickly as the mind can turn from one thought to another are immeasurably profound.

The rich media nomenclature and focus upon it is like continuing to hype the electro-vacuum or solid-state electronics. The designation for the purposes of identifying necessary technologies to make a given form of advertising representation work properly makes sense, but only in the context of an imperfect world of multiple platforms and non-standardization. But rich media should no longer be a main attraction.

Broadband is the dip around which the rest of the Internet chips circulate; rich media is just the Ruffles among the Doritos and the Lay's.

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