OPINION: Pushing too hard may doom rich media

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Last week Jeff Lehman, VP-sales, Real Networks, wrote an article describing his "simple" solution to falling click-through rates: He suggested we just zap existing TV and radio creative to the online audience through his own company's streaming media technology. It's definitely time for a reality check.

The very word "rich" seems to be a paradox in progress. Who gets rich on rich media, anyway? I'm pretty sure it's not the viewer. Didn't anyone learn anything from the dismal failure of push technology?

Two years ago push was hot; today it's virtually non-existent. No matter how people try to package it, rich media is another push technology doomed to the same fate if it's introduced before it's proven to enrich the user's experience.

For the time being--and probably for several of years to come--the Internet's growth will hinge on bandwidth.

SPEED STILL THE ISSUE

Only a small portion of the Internet audience has connection speeds to make possible what Mr. Lehman calls video's "power of emotion." Believe me, the most brilliant creative won't impress anyone streaming in even at 56K.

Bandwidth solutions are coming, but not in the immediate future for most of us.

Netizens worldwide have made it clear (to anyone willing to listen) banners are intrusive. They don't want more, they want less.

Why do you suppose many leading sites won't accept streaming rich-media ads? It's because executives realize these ads would be unpopular with their audience. The bottom line: sites know that their huge audience is what attracts sponsors; it doesn't work the other way around. Everyone should learn from this.

AUDIENCE MAY BE TURNED OFF

The idea of forcing TV and radio ads onto the Internet through streaming technology is insane at this nascent point in its history.

By pushing too soon, the industry risks alienating the Internet's audience, killing any hope for widespread use of rich media before the technology has a chance to blossom.

I propose that the rich-media zealots hop off their bandwagon, sit back awhile and ponder the medium they are hoping to affect. Think about why people are on the Internet in the first place. Research shows many people already consider the Internet a better alternative to TV. So why would we want to make it more like TV?

Why try to push rich media before most users are ready for it? There are better ways to get the job done by embracing the Internet in its current form and taking advantage of its strengths.

UNDERSTAND THE MEDIUM

Zero in on advertising that takes advantage of interactivity and community. Explore news groups and forums, ask questions, and get to know what people like and dislike on the Internet. Learn the best place to put banners on your site. Try smaller, less-intrusive banners, and you'll find that people will respond better. Understand the medium.

Once you do, you'll realize that pushing rich media too soon could kill a good thing.

Tom Dugan is president of NewGate Internet, an online research and marketing company based in Sausalito, Calif.

Copyright October 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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