The word is almost an obsession within the industry, which is finally delivering on its long-held promise to deliver revolutionary new forms of interactive advertising to consumers' homes through cable's high-speed, high-capacity pathways.
Only a fraction of the nation's consumers have access to this new interactive advertising through their home PCs, and the medium is still in its infancy.
GETTING FEET WET
But as development gradually accelerates, several marketers are getting their feet wet in the new medium, hoping to achieve widespread, real-time, one-on-one communications with consumers in their homes.
"In broadband we offer a guaranteed base of impressions against a high-end audience, plus we offer new ad models. And an advertiser can test something with us using broadband and then skinny it down to narrowband if he wants to," says Susan Bratton, director-interactive advertising group for @Home Network. The interactive computer service is available to about 50,000 consumers in 21 markets around the U.S.
Simply defined, broadband means the larger capacity for sending data and images into a home or business through a cable TV wire, vs. the much smaller capacity of a traditional telephone wire or TV antenna signal.
CONSUMERS WIN OUT
After years of development, various examples of interactive communications services are being marketed now to consumers.
"It is my opinion that @Home, or something like it, is how the Web is going to develop," says Mark de Swaan Arons, director of interactive advertising for Unilever's Lipton, an advertiser on @Home's service.
@Home features a variety of lifestyle, news and entertainment programming; placed on the lower right-hand corner of the @Home pages is a rectangular "broadband box" for an advertiser's image.
The broadband box -- dubbed b*box for short -- takes up about one-sixth of the page. If consumers choose, they can click on various options inside the box and get more information about featured products.
The Lipton ad running currently on the @Home Network backs its Lipton Recipe Secrets dry soup mixes, providing recipes and tips for how to create an entire meal starting with the product.
@Home subscribers who click on Lipton Recipe secrets in the b*box get to see basic cooking techniques illustrated in a video, with other options for more information about cooking and Lipton products.
"We have a 50 year heritage with Recipe Secrets," says Dutch-born Mr. de Swaan Arons, adding: "We've got 6,000 recipes and 96 basic cooking techniques."
Furthermore, Lipton's general Web site is equipped with software so if any user gets to its site via a cable modem they automatically have access to the same real-time full-motion video information.
"We've got all 96 basic cooking techniques on video, so if a recipe calls for binding, for example, they can call up the video and learn how to do it," Mr. de Swaan Arons says.
A user with a low-speed modem can download the same video, and view it some number of minutes later.
The beauty for the cable modem user, however, is the video can be seen immediately, as soon as the user clicks on it, the executive says.
Another company that's bullish on @Home is Clorox Co.
The household products company recently bought ad space on @Home for its Brita water-filter system.
@Home's interactive ads allow users to click on the Brita ad to learn more about how to change the filters.
By clicking on an @Home b*box ad, users can also sign up for a program that will have the Brita filter automatically sent to them at regular intervals.
"If we're successful we hope to take the program to the Internet," says David Hanlin, Clorox's chief of new media. What particularly impresses him about @Home and the b*box "is that we can run real-time video. Real-time audio is already on the 'net. But in three to four years, real-time video via high-speed access will be here in much greater numbers. This gives us a great head start on learning how consumers will react to it."
Local advertisers seem to be impressed as well.
"What you see with @Home is definitely the future of Internet advertising," says Andy Nunez, president of Nuberry Advertising, San Jose. He's got two clients involved in the service.
One, Quality Tune-Up, has 45 stores in the San Francisco Bay area. The company uses the b*box to send consumers to its Web site, where they can get e-mailed discount coupons and reminders for tuneups, as well as the nearest store's location (by ZIP code).
"We also have SunTrips in there," Mr. Nunez says, adding consumers can click on the b*box and access a commercial for the travel company. "The key here is the incredible speed of the cable modem."
The marriage of real-time video and audio that broadband allows has already shown great results for another local advertiser, Match.com.
Match.com has run conventional banner advertising. With the b*box users can click on the image of a member's face and hear a testimonial by that person. Click again, and users get to the Match.com web site.
Thus far, Match.com has gotten a much higher percentage of click-throughs from the @Home ads than its traditional banner ads.
"We're looking to do more with @Home," says Priscilla Change, director of marketing for match.com. "What they created for us is very attractive to the average surfer. It made them stop and click on the ad."
EIGHT OPERATORS SIGNED
Launched in 1995, @Home has affiliate agreements with eight of the nation's biggest cable TV operators. Subscribers in certain markets can access @Home on PCs in their homes or businesses, using high-speed cable modems supplied by cable operators. The one-time equipment fee for set-up is about $150; the monthly subscription fee ranges from about $35-$40 a month.
Subscribers get 24-hour high-speed Internet access, plus e-mail and online chat, a customized browser and a menu of local community content.
@Home is only available in markets where cable operators have invested in an upgraded two-way platform; systems are being upgraded in stages across the U.S., says an @Home spokeswoman.
Just how robust is @Home?
Consumers using the broadband system surf the Internet at speeds up to 100 times faster than traditional telephone lines, which is the No. 1 lure for most subscribers, says Ms. Bratton.
When a user with a high-speed cable modem in the @Home service area connects to cyberspace, the first screen that comes up is the @Home Network home page.
Once there, the @Home subscriber has various content choices: news, sports, games, pop/arts, kids, lifestyle, shopping and technology, chat, as well as surfing the Web.
Some of @Home's content partners include CNN Interactive, CBS Sportsline, Amazon, E! Online, c/net and ESPN.
@Home's rate card is divided into four categories: netizen ($11,765), pioneer ($35,295), innovator ($70,590) and visionary ($117,650). Perks available to visionary-level advertisers include sponsorship of a chat area, brand testing with a research company and personal profiling, as well as about 600,000 more guaranteed impressions than netizens.
The b*box has not gone unnoticed by Road Runner, the high-speed cable modem service offered by nation's other two major cable companies, Time Warner Cable and MediaOne. Currently, Road Runner does not carry broadband advertising. But that's soon to change.
"We're looking for a select group of advertisers to work with," says Jonathan Bari, director of business development for the Road Runner Group.
NEW ROAD RUNNER VERSION
These advertisers will be plugged into Road Runner version 2.0, due in June. Like @Home, that service is expected to have a number of content partners.
For months there were talks to merge @Home and Road Runner -- and also involve AT&T's Worldnet, but at presstime those talks had reportedly broken down.
Regardless of what may happen between the two services, Ms. Bratton isn't looking back.
"As I like to tell advertisers, if you participate with us you'll be in the future first," she says.