A Wealth of Good News and More to Come - It Helps to Know What You're Selling

Let's see, The Online Publishers Association (OPA) reported that two-dozen of its members, who are largely the premium online publishers, are reporting an average increase in revenues of more than 40%, with profits for some reaching very respectable levels - and still rising. Web-related investment indexes have been rising steadily quarter on quarter, some bellwether Internet stocks are way up in the past year, and there are credible reports that venture capital is returning to Web properties.

Meanwhile, the Web's unique ability to reach at-work users seems to finally be generating the right kind of actionable notice. While the formation of the "At Work Network" by Forbes, CBSMarketWatch, New York Times Digital and USA Today way back when was a clear reflection of marketers' and publishers' growing awareness of this power, what I find more interesting is the OPA's continuing examination of the best ways to divide the Web's audience habits into Dayparts for better, and more Television-ish targeting. While many of us will likely look to the IAB for this by the fall, the OPA already has been working with Millward Brown IntelliQuest to get after the data.

An aside: Is it just me, or does the OPA just really GET it? I mean ALL of it - not just the Web, but how the Web fits into the overall media mix, what's best about it, and how best to strategically market that to the world?

I've been wondering why there is still so much complaining about interactive "not getting our share" when the business of interactive marketing is so clearly on the upswing. And, as one or two of you might recall from my first column, this steady rise has nothing to do with the smoke and mirrors that all came crashing down three years ago, with all that VC cash. Sustainable businesses are built with sustainable value propositions behind them - in any discipline. For all the companies that made such wild assertions about broadband access and how it would lead the Web toward almost replacing TV for consumers, I point to the aforementioned data from major online publishers in Q1. The "war" with Iraq hurt ad revenues at newspapers and TV stations, but it significantly increased ad revenues online. There are very simple and compelling reasons why this was so predictable.

If we created an index of the born-on-the-Web properties that were generating more than $10M in revenue annually in 1997, and then added the top 50 newspaper and magazine sites online, I'd bet that the growth in revenue, jobs, and yes, profits, from this aggregate set would better any similar sample from any industry since 1950. Of course there has been tremendous fallout. How many dozen automakers were there in 1905? Consolidation is free market Darwinism. So, now the survivors can start to thrive. But, chiefly, and this is important - it is so because only recently have we really begun to understand the nature of the media asset we have.

Of course, for any media set, it's the eyeballs. But, the more developed media, especially special interest and trade press, have always known the most about those eyeballs: what they make, where they work, what articles and ads they see the most. We've only started truly to understand this about our eyeballs within the past two years.

I wish I could poll everyone opening MediaPost today. This isn't so scientific, but let's try. How many of you are reading this for reasons that have nothing to do with work? (Put your hand down, Mom). EVERY ONE of you is working now, or at work anyway, reading this. The Web has long been our work medium. For students and media, it's a research tool. For everyone else, it's a way to find some very specific information - from the weather to a hotel room to a date (future column) - and almost all of us are at work and thinking of work (or ducking the boss) when we're online.

Hmmm, a fast evolving media type that in less than a decade, has become far and away the chief media type accessed by professionals? Hmm, no wonder revenues, profits, stocks, traffic, investments, rich media, and yes - jobs in interactive marketing - are on the rise.

There's more: The overall ad market is showing new signs of life, and with a big tax cut on the way, and with fewer countries to invade, maybe, just maybe, there really is more to look forward to!

Now, if we could just introduce Apple to the best way to reach the at-work users, 94% or so who use their competitors' products almost exclusively, we'll REALLY be on to something.

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