Commentary

The Future of Tracking In Online Advertising

Tracking in online advertising is about to take some dramatic and revolutionary turns with the rise of online broadcasting. There are two kinds of online broadcasting emerging: IPTV, which generally describes anything resembling traditional television on the Internet, and broadband TV, which describes everything else.

The "everything" includes any site that streams video with some form of interactive advertising associated with it. This is neither a universal distinction nor even a meaningful one, except to those who like to distinguish themselves from the wealth of sites currently streaming video by claiming to be "legitimate" media. But in this brave new world where new- content creators are bringing nontraditional content to the consumer, this distinction becomes ever more difficult to defend.

Whether an Internet "broadcast" site is delivering mainstream media, user- generated media content or one of the growing number of content categories that are filling the gap between these two extremes, the revolution in ad tracking technologies applies to all comers. Until recently, online ad tracking was restricted to banners, the primary advertising product available on the Internet. As the growing tsunami of new media washes over the Internet, a whole host of new tracking schemes with supporting technologies will be springing up as well. The main reason for this is that Internet television brings with it the best opportunities to leverage existing broadcast data strategies.

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Everything a viewer does can be tracked by either the broadcaster or the advertiser. Different broadcast solutions will vary in the specific ways in which this is set up between these two stakeholders. But both will be able to either directly track viewer behavior or have access to tracked data collected by the other party. Traditional online advertising has delivered only a single process, in that Web surfers click-through to an advertiser's Web site. This process has been fraught with problems including click-through fraud and the natural disconnect between the media site and the advertiser's site, which prevents the media company from validating the value of its media on the one hand--and confuses the advertiser who cannot correlate CPM's and results, limiting meaningful ROI.

The Internet television environment differs from this traditional online ad environment in one very significant way. Internet television does not bring "surfers" to the Internet; it brings "media watchers" to the Internet. This is a whole new breed of animal. Media watchers do not want to surf the Internet for information. They come to watch an event or a program. They have no desire to wander away from the television program, nor does the broadcaster want them to. The byline of Internet television is click-in, not click-through. When Internet television ads are designed to support click-in, the effect on ad tracking will be dramatic.

A click-in ad will be designed as a "micro-experience" for the viewer. Instead of being dragged into the advertiser's overwhelming Web site, the viewer will be enticed to interact only briefly with an interesting and engaging ad designed specifically for this Internet television environment. Viewers may occasionally purchase an item--but more often they will simply request more information, enter a contest, answer a question, ask for a follow-up call or otherwise engage in a process that pulls them into the sales process.

Internet television offers one more powerful advantage over traditional broadcast models. An Internet television broadcaster can collect basic viewer data directly from each and every viewer. There is no need for a third-party survey service that collects only a small amount of viewer data. An Internet broadcast solution can be designed to collect this data directly and in great detail. Moreover, this information can be organized based on specific program metadata. This means that detailed audience metrics can be correlated to highly targeted audiences. This gives agencies powerful new ways to help their ad clients purchase only audiences that matter to that advertiser.

When you put this all together. what you have is a set of marketing tools that allow advertisers to conduct marketing campaigns in ways never imagined before. Advertisers can do market research in real time; reach and engage prospects immediately; modify ad campaigns on the fly; deliver customized sales processes to individual viewers; and process market and consumer data to a detailed level never possible before now.

What this means for all the stakeholders in this new game is that they must quickly adapt with new business models, new services, and new business relationships. This process will not be easy. Change will not come fast enough for some. For others, it will seem all too fast. What is certain is that business models that do not adapt will fade away. This is already happening in the music industry. The television industry is about to feel the same impact.

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