Braun promises 'signature event'

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The new leader of Yahoo's media division brought a little bit of Hollywood to the iMedia Brand Summit in Bonita Springs, Fla., last week.

In a keynote to a packed auditorium of interactive marketing leaders, their agencies and vendors, Lloyd Braun told how losing a bet to "Seinfeld" creator Larry David led to the development of a character named Lloyd Braun on the show. The point was not lost on Internet insiders that Mr. Braun, the former head of ABC Entertainment Television Group who greenlighted TV hits "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" and had a hand in HBO's "The Sopranos," is connected to Hollywood power brokers. Hired by Yahoo last fall, he's about to relocate Yahoo's media unit to Los Angeles, where he can take advantage of that access.

`"I Love Lucy' defined what a comedy on TV could be," he said. `"The Sopranos' defined what could be done on cable TV. The Internet has not yet had a signature, compelling event. It will."

The entertainment credentials Mr. Braun brings to Yahoo have the potential to create content into which the portal can sell more ads. And those capabilities and connections also push Yahoo out ahead of rivals America Online, Google and MSN as the source of original Hollywood entertainment.

NO TV

Although Mr. Braun did not detail how he planned to develop this signature, compelling event and the content that would follow, he spelled out what he wouldn't do. "We're not going to stream TV shows on the Internet," he said. "I don't believe the future of the Internet is to watch TV on a PC or hand-held device."

Mr. Braun doesn't use the word "site" anymore. "That feels first-generation to me," he said. What others call Web sites, Mr. Braun thinks of as "moving, fluid, evolving channels."

Attendees were also impressed by Mr. Braun's admission that, "If I only knew at ABC what I now know, I would have taken half of my paid media budget and plunked it [on the Internet]."

But integration with TV is obviously part of his plan. Yahoo's entertainment division is in the third season of a partnership with the NBC reality series "The Apprentice," which has afforded a number of branded-entertainment opportunities for Yahoo and its advertisers.

The speech fed the buzz of a conference on fire with the promise of broadband, emerging technologies and increased online ad spending. The development of content and advertising inventory online was very much on the minds of iMedia marketer participants who shared privately that their online ad spending will increase this year. Most expect to invest more of that spending on rich media and branding campaigns. That's because 51% of the online population now has broadband, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

The result is that rich media-a method of communication that incorporates animation, sound, video and/or interactivity-is going to overtake search marketing as the dominant form of Web advertising by the end of the decade, according to online-market-research firm eMarketer. Now it accounts for $1 billion in ad spending and is growing at a rate of 25% a year.

"Rich media is becoming the standard ad vehicle on the Internet," said consultant Neil Perry of Neil Perry Associates, who gave conference attendees a sneak peak into a broadband study commissioned by iMedia. Rich media gets five times more clicks than static banner ads.

Branding works best for rich media, he said. "But rich media can work as well with direct response combined with branding," Mr. Perry told iMedia attendees. For instance, a TV ad might drive users to a Web site, where they could click on a video ad to an e-commerce site.

Rich media is also effective because broadband users view a lot of rich media online, including video ads. According to the Online Publishers Association, 70% of 27,000 consumers surveyed have seen video ads, and 86% watch online videos in their entirety. "While that's good news for marketers producing video ads, too much of a good thing can kill a golden goose," Mr. Perry cautioned.

Frequency capping is critical to success of rich media on the Internet, he said. Web users appreciate their newfound control over this new media and will not put up with seeing the same ad again and again as they will on TV. Brands are not yet heeding this intelligence, however. Only 16% of ads are capped, yet 43% of the ads online are rich media, Mr. Perry said.

Broadband-enabled video viewers are savvy consumers, he said. "They are not interested in 30-second spots [like on TV]," he said. The messaging needs to suit the medium.

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