If the Clinton administration is to succeed in its goal of guaranteeing universal access to that highway, the industry said, then ad-supported programming is the only way to go.
Without that subsidization, the cost of participation will be so great that only a select few will be able to afford it, while the less moneyed will be stranded at the side of the road.
At a government-sponsored public hearing in Indianapolis last week, Procter & Gamble Co.'s Robert Herbold, senior VP-advertising and information services, dramatized the industry's affordability argument, saying the average monthly household TV bill would be $350 without the $30 billion that advertisers currently spend every year to support programming.
Mr. Herbold, who has emerged in the past two months as one of the industry's leading spokesmen on the topic of interactivity, spoke on behalf of the three ad industry trade groups-the American Association of Advertising Agencies, American Advertising Federation and Association of National Advertisers. The hearing was sponsored by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The Indianapolis meeting was on universal access and was the last of five hearings held by the NTIA this year. They will yield a voluminous report that, in turn, will be handed over to an interagency government task force within about three months, an NTIA spokeswoman said.
The task force then will produce its own recommendations that will represent the White House's views on the shape and character of the information superhighway, she said.
"Where entertainment or information is offered viewers at a price, advertising will enable them to be provided at the lowest practical cost," Mr. Herbold said at the hearing. "Additionally, we anticipate there will be consumer interest in advertising support for many other services that may become available to consumers over the highway."
Mr. Herbold and other industry representatives said the hearing went well, especially considering the other interest groups testifying, and the reactions of Larry Irving, assistant commerce secretary for communications and information.
"It was quite a contrast to the other presentations that tended to talk a lot about ways that the government could subsidize their services," Mr. Herbold said in an interview. "There were educators and other social services saying they would like to be put on this information superhighway and would need government support to get there, so I think what we had to say was received very positively because they are looking for ways to fund this venture."
Mr. Irving was not available to comment, but the NTIA spokeswoman said he was "interested in what they had to say."
John Kamp, Four A's VP, said he took particular encouragement from the questions that Mr. Irving posed.
"His questions indicated that he had read the entire testimony we presented ... which is unusual given how many witnesses there were."
"We plan to talk to Larry Irving more ... but clearly we made progress because there seemed to be agreement that advertising will pay for a lot of this," said Mr. Kamp, a one-time Federal Communications Commission staffer who often crossed paths and swords with Mr. Irving, former general counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance.
The ad industry's sudden strong interest in new-media developments is an aftershock of critical comments made by P&G Chairman Ed Artzt at a Four A's meeting last May. Mr. Artzt painted a picture of a future TV world without ads and called for an industry summit to make sure that P&G and other traditional marketers don't get left behind.
P&G, the quintessential marketer of consumer package goods, feels the heat of tomorrow's technology more than a Chrysler Corp. might, and realizes that commercial messages inside mass programming remain its advertising lifeblood.
Mr. Herbold said reaction in the weeks since the Four A's meeting, where he also spoke, has been "extremely supportive" of P&G's ideas. He said ad industry trade groups, along with key agencies and advertisers were "very active right now" in following up on the challenge.
Now he hopes the government will also be persuaded by his pitch.