The Wild, Wild (OMMA) West

Viewed from afar, the general arrangement of our business, like most other businesses, features a buy side and a sell side. In what we've become accustomed to calling traditional media, these sides are of course called the publisher and/or media, and the marketer and/or advertiser.

One of the more interesting topics that has been bandied about in our industry of late has been called everything but what it should be called--the convergence of these two. It made for a decent panel topic at OMMA Hollywood this week, called "Marketers as Publishers? How Client-site Video, Gaming and Podcasts Impact the Media Mix."

Those of you who are planners know exactly what I'm talking about, but you probably don't think it's interesting as much as you think it's maddening. For many clients, media planning is taking on a whole new definition. Now many major marketers are planning ways to use their own sites as both buy side and sell side, building out brand-immersive games, informative podcasts, proprietary video and other interactive features designed to capture and continue a one-to-one conversation with their customers. How do they draw traffic? There are as many ways to accomplish this as there are sub-segments online: SEM, SEO, e-mail, affiliate programs, banners, viral....none of the above, all of the above.



But at what expense are these assets being funded? How do these initiatives fit into the overall communications plan? Are media dollars giving way to projects marketers may see as more accountable? Or are media spends increasing in order to drive new traffic to these robust site elements? After all, we all know that money is just about pouring into interactive these days. But, do you know how much of this new money is in SEM? Some estimates put this ratio as high as 72 percent; some even higher. So, this rising tide seems to be driven from one pool, no?

We've become so postmodern, we in interactive, that we probably disregard out of hand what convergence originally referred to as we crow on these days about its counterpart in the wave dynamics of our industry zeitgeist, divergence. If you're old enough, do you remember how cool you felt using the term "telephony?" Using the term "divergence" reminds me of that. Divergence is the elder cousin that had a role in blurring the lines between marketer and publisher, of course. How's that for postmodern--divergence begets convergence--with a new nexus of Search.

This is, to me, the largest and most interesting trend in our space today. It is also the one that is most difficult to encapsulate. That's what I kept thinking during this panel, which featured some gorgeous video and intriguing business models that I'll return to in future columns.

With so many different types of interactive platforms in common use now, and video just going through the roof on just about each of them, the line between buy side and sell side is going to become blurrier still. Think of gaming. That's sell side, right? What if the games are sponsored via pre-roll, and the cars have NASCAR styled ads on them, and the whole thing was created by a brand? Know why this kind of thing is so common now? Gamers represent 44 percent reach online, according to ComScore Networks. They spend more than 48 hours per month online, more than twice the average user, and they consume 55 percent more pages than the average user.

So, let's go back to that question about the game that a few million teens forwarded to one another online today. Who is the publisher and who is the marketer?

When rich media started becoming popular about six years ago, third-party rich media providers filled a much-needed niche. Just after the first of these became a $1M business, many in our industry predicted their collapse. Today, each of these companies is larger and more prosperous than ever, with the smartest of them being very active in these multiple, "divergent" platforms. Those predicting the downfall of these companies are growing louder still as smaller shops that focus on sometimes just one element of the really cool video production and rendering process are springing up all over the world. Not all of them are in gaming. But, some of the best are.

Many of these creative shops from the West coast were represented at OMMA Hollywood. You could tell who they were--they wore designer jeans and thrift-shop sport coats, with their long or spiked hair all slicked back, with funky Pumas or flip-flops on their feet. They were taking notes at all the panels that were sponsored or moderated by these third-party rich media companies like Eyeblaster (disclosure: my client) and Klipmart. As they surf the rising tide of interactive video, I kept thinking that they're going to shape our industry's future as much as anybody--and it's looking pretty cool from this non-gamer's perspective.

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