INTERACTIVE: PRESSURE BUILDS FOR SITES TO ADOPT RICH MEDIA

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Following a road show last month to push rich Web media as an ad vehicle, technology companies and agencies are turning up the heat on sites that do not accept the format.

"Agencies should put pressure on sites to accept rich media and withhold ad dollars if they don't," said Jeff Lehman, VP-advertising sales for RealNetworks, during a Rich Media Day seminar in San Francisco last month.

Other rich-media seminars were held in New York and Chicago, sponsored by Advertising Age, Intel Corp., MatchLogic, Narrative Communications, RealNetworks and other companies, to promote multimedia ads such as those using streaming audio and video and virtual reality modeling language.

FEAR OF SLOW DOWNLOADS

Intel first backed rich media last year as a way to showcase its high-performance MMX computer chips. It partnered with software developers and agency Modem Media to create multimedia ad campaigns using rich-media formats.

Most high-traffic sites, including Yahoo!, Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition and CNN.com, accept certain types of rich media, such as HTML ads. However, even these sites are reluctant to run some rich-media formats, such as video banners, citing slow download times and integration issues with third-party servers, which could require a site to serve an ad from an ad-serving company and a streaming media company.

"Rich media ads are hard enough," said Richy Glassberg, senior VP-general manager of Turner Interactive Sales, pointing to issues such as no standards for rich media, software code varying from agency to agency and no assurances rich media will work on every browser.

Turner will not accept certain types of rich-media ads such as interstitials and pop-ups, and it reviews all others on a case-by-case basis. In addition, it has a minimum two-week testing period for each ad to make sure it works.

AN ADDED DANGER

Beyond these issues, "when there is the added layer of rich media served by third-party servers, it's even more dangerous," Mr. Glassberg said, noting uncertainties such as download times and how the ads affect the user-friendliness of the site.

But the online industry says the acceptance of rich media is critical for Internet advertising to grow because it will encourage users to click on ads, and it will give advertisers a format they're more familiar with: TV-like commercials.

"Everybody knows average click rates are declining on GIF [basic animated] banners," said Tom Hespos, media director at K2 Design, New York. "Users are ready for something more exciting."

According to industry estimates, click-through rates on static banner ads are below 1%, while those for rich-media ads are higher.

For example, RealNetworks analyzed 52 rich-media ads that use streaming audio or video and the average click-through rate was 5.9%, Mr. Lehman said.

An interstitial ad for General Motors Corp.'s Buick now running on Real-Networks' Daily Briefing news site (www.dailybriefing.com) has garnered a 6.3% click-through, Mr. Lehman added. The ad, which RealNetworks calls an in-stream ad, is a 30-second streaming audio and video spot that plays between content pages.

RESISTANCE PREVAILS

RealNetworks says it is able to overcome resistance from most sites by providing a link within a standard GIF banner ad that calls the rich media from a third-party ad server, which then streams the audio or video, or both, and does not slow down the ad delivery.

However, some sites still balk at running certain types of streaming rich-media ads.

Mr. Hespos said K2 developed an ad for a client using Narrative Communications' Enliven technology, but he's having trouble placing it. The ad is a standard GIF banner that's served by AdKnowledge; it contains code that calls the streaming ad from Narrative.

"It doesn't hold up the loading of pages because it's streaming," said Mr. Hespos. "Some sites have accepted it, but a few have rejected it because they say it's too big."

And he said that's costing his client leads.

LIMITING PLACEMENT

Even sites that accept certain rich media often limit their placement. For example, The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, which only accepts HTML ads after they've been tested, will place some Java ads on a Smart

Money.com page that requires a Java player to see a ticker. "The problem is, if a banner goes bad, you get broken GIFs all over the page," said Randy Kilgore, ad director for The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition.

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