Rich Media: Born of Necessity

Passion. Obsession. Invention. Necessity. These elements not only form the framework of most successful endeavors, but, increasingly for those of us who work in the field of online advertising, possession of “Type A” personality traits, like passionate obsession, is key to our very survival. This game’s just not for tourists anymore. Nothing typifies this dynamic more intensely than the field of Rich Media advertising. As CEO of Emerging Interest, I’ve been intimately involved in this particular back road of the information highway for years. And this month Media Magazine presents us with a snapshot of this rapidly changing rich media world. On the following pages, you will find a primer and a roadmap: what you need to know to traverse a field that is admittedly filled with some pretty thorny issues.

Magicians talk about working in the “off-beat”: that moment when the audience isn’t paying attention, when they think the trick is over. It’s in that moment—the moment when the spotlight has been turned off—when (for the magician) the real magic happens. Today we hear a lot of talk about “shakeout,” about the softening of the advertising market. We hear that advertising on the Internet just doesn’t work. But for those of us who have been working on the edges of the technology curve for a number of years now…well, we’ve heard this kind of talk before.

Something new comes along. It captures the public’s imagination. The hype machine begins to hum, fueled by a hungry media and investors looking to win the lottery. Promises and outrageous claims follow. But eventually there comes a crash. And suddenly the spotlight goes away. But it’s then, right at that moment, when, sometimes, the real magic happens.

We’re seeing this right now in the rich media industry. Just as media outlets have given up on the Internet by focusing attention on what doesn’t work, a small army of passionate and obsessed folks, working in the “off-beat,” are inventing and creating things that do. And many people, including analysts like Forrester’s Jim Nail, publishers like CNET, and networks like DoubleClick, are beginning to think that the key to advertising on the Internet might lie in technologies that are more interactive, more responsive, more eye-catching—in other words, in richer ad media types than we currently have.

Some of the issues and road blocks that have traditionally held back the wide adoption of rich media technologies include a lack of standards, a lack of site acceptance, narrow reach, plug-in dependence, long development times, expensive to deploy, or just that it’s too plain HARD!

But here’s where Invention and its mother, Necessity come into play. Like the crashing of the Berlin Wall, the changing economic climate is forcing companies to take a sledgehammer to these problems. Companies like Macromedia, Doubleclick, 24/7, and L90 are getting together to develop and support standards that make Flash as easy to serve and track as a static banner. Companies like CNET, CBS Marketwatch, and the New York Times are bucking tradition (and perhaps of the wrath of their readers) by experimenting with large interactive advertising units and placing them directly within the editorial content.

More big-picture issues remain—many more than can be discussed in a single column. So, Media Magazine has asked me to hang around a bit and write a regular column that will focus on these rich media issues. But like any journey, it begins with a single step (or turn of the page). So let’s get started. Because now is the time when the real magic is starting to happen, and believe me, you don’t want to miss it.

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