Commentary

No More Bad TV, Please!

After having prayed for broadband for years, now that it's here, I sometimes regret it. Almost every new video project launched on the Web is awful. Take the preview for the "Amazon Fishbowl" show sponsored by UPS. In it, Paul Reiser delivers a UPS package containing his book to a woman who ordered it online. Not much of a premise, but with Paul, it could work. Unfortunately, what you have here is stiff, amateurish, bad TV that is not funny.

Not that this petit film is alone. The Web is suddenly awash in the worst of TV. It contains little videos without the minimal quality controls imposed by the networks. The shows seem to be produced by a bunch of advertising people, who fancy themselves as Hollywood types: loose without discipline, taste and often talent. The truth is that ad people are good at making ads and showbiz people are good at making shows. Having spent years in Hollywood making television shows, I know it's not something you learn overnight. It's a whole different set of dynamics and sensitivities. That's why the same person who can deliver a funny 30-second beer commercial doesn't necessarily do well with long-form video. If it was an easy transition, I promise you half the ad creatives you know would be writing sitcoms.

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Okay, now that I've alienated myself from every copywriter I've ever known, let's talk about why this is happening with video on the Web. Video content is today's new and exciting thing. Everyone has to have it, and if you haven't got it, you have to make it!

Nobody is exactly sure why. For example, every car company must have an obscure short film about two crazy guys living in a bus, and today every major brand needs a Webisode featuring a famous celebrity, directed by a famous director--costing huge amounts of money. Of course, not much of this video has anything to do with the product. But it doesn't matter--especially when you're shooting Paris Hilton doing the wet T-shirt thing and you get to make wardrobe adjustments.

The idea of all of these short videos is to engage viewers, and equally, leverage agency television-commercial skills into this new opportunity. Ad agencies, already pretty nervous about this Internet thing, are looking at the video craze and seeing something they understand and know how to make. The question is, however, whether this is the most effective use of this remarkable new medium, or whether it's just a big waste of money.

All this focus on video on the Web misses the big opportunity that the Internet brings us. What makes the Internet different from TV is interactivity. You may think of that as being able to click boxes or select videos to view, but it's a great deal more. The concept of interactivity encompasses all of the technology that can customize and personalize a Web experience in real time. This ability to get progressively smarter about what to show you and how to present it simulates the subtle course corrections a good salesman makes when in dialogue with a prospect. It also allows the Web to offer exactly the right thing at the right time, with the viewer participating in the process of discovery. This is a magical set of capabilities that the marketing community has barely begun to investigate. Imagine combining all the emotional impact of sound, video and animation into a personally relevant story that unfolds before you.

Today, video doesn't have to be in a rectangular box anymore. The whole computer screen is our creative playground, and we finally have the creative and interactive tools we need at our disposal. The objective is to create immersive, interactive brand experiences that engage people emotionally and deepen their understanding of the brand's value proposition. This is a journey, as it has always been. The difference now is that we can engage people longer and take them farther down the road in one experience than ever before. Our objective as marketers is to create an understanding of our value proposition and an affinity with our brand. While videos can contribute to this, they do not capture the possibilities of a true interactive Web brand experience. To get there, you need to see beyond the box and bad TV.

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