Digital Media

Q&A: Mark Cuban

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Outspoken, straight-talking entrepreneur Mark Cuban, 47, parlayed the founding of Micro Solutions (sold to CompuServe) and then (sold to Yahoo) into ownership of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theater chain, HDNet high-def TV station, a production company for original TV and film,, and one of the most widely read blogs on the In keeping with Mr. Cuban's e-mail nature-he responds personally and promptly to many fans and critics-the following Q&A was culled from a series of e-mails between Mr. Cuban and technology reporter Beth Snyder Bulik.

ADVERTISING AGE: Do you think marketers and ad agencies understand the value of high-definition TV?

MARK CUBAN: No. If they did, every commercial would be in HD. I think the reason is that they don't have it at home. The same thing happened with rich media. Until marketers and advertisers saw it at home, they never used it.

HDTV picture is sharper. They have a 16-by-9 canvas to work with. Viewers who see it, register and appreciate the improvement. ... HDTV sets will be ubiquitous and all commercials will be shown in HD-it's just a question of when.

AA: How will HDTV programming change over the next year, and what role does advertising play?

MR. CUBAN: I see the number of HDTV viewers more than doubling. Those viewers will begin to look at non-HD programs and commercials as second rate. So 10 million-plus viewers will be watching shows in high-def wondering why the commercials have black bars and look blurry. In two years, it will 30 million.

Marketers will start to understand that negative response next year. Those who don't will lose their business. HDTV will have that much of an impact. On the flipside, those who use it to their advantage will get superior results. HDTV owners don't like that there is a dearth of content. They can, and will, support those that provide commercials in HD format.

AA: How does a network of HD programming like HDNet work for advertisers?

MR. CUBAN: Every advertiser wants their product shown in the most flattering manner. ... Not only can current commercials be seen in higher resolution and a wider screen, but it enables new opportunities for unique creative to set itself apart.

Another point that should propel advertisers to switch to HD is that if an advertiser or marketer is afraid of TiVo-like devices, then HD is their best friend. Ninety-nine percent of these devices are not HD-compatible. Which means HD is TiVo-proof for 99% of the users out there today, and probably next year as well.

Another point is that the cost of full home theaters is falling incredibly fast. More and more households are experiencing HD with full 5.1 [surround] sound. Leveraging the high-quality sound will be something that smart marketers use to their advantage.

AA: How does HDNet work with your other media properties? How important is it that those properties-including movie theaters, TV programming, HDNet, HDNet Movies, IceRocket, your personal blog-work together?

MR. CUBAN: Our goal is to give our HDNet viewers the best possible content, how they want it, when they want it. To that end, we work hard to exploit our various media properties. ...

The list [of HDNet-exclusive movies] goes on and on with others we will be announcing. All will premiere on HDNet Movies and in theaters on the same day. All are available to sponsors.

On the HDNet side, we offer the only news features shot in HD. Only HDNet had HD cameras in New Orleans and the coast for Katrina and Rita. Only we were at [Pope John Paul II and Yasser Arafat's] funerals, and in Iraq covering the war, all as part of the HDNet world report.

Only HDNet has a full schedule of NHL hockey in HD. ...

Of 21 prime-time hours, 15 are original hours shot in HD by HDNet. No other network produces as much HD ...

AA: You're a famous blogger, of course, and have written about how blogs can work to make traditional media stronger and more valuable to consumers. What value do blogs offer advertisers?

MR. CUBAN: I believe the strongest companies have a voice at the top that customers can turn to for honest information. A blog is a forum for a CEO or senior manager to convey to their customer and prospect base information not only about what they are doing but why.

It's far better to have an outlet the CEO controls as a first line of information than a customer service line or media coverage. The hard part is being brutally honest. Customers see through bullshit. If the blogger isn't willing to take the heat and tell the truth, the blog won't work.

AA: Is there any additional value-besides the CEO better controlling the brand image-to advertising on blogs?

MR. CUBAN: Absolutely. From multiple perspectives. First, there is the endorsement perspective. Real people endorsing real products to their readers. No matter how small, it still helps. ... Then there is the advertising placement. If you place a sports or business ad on my blog, it's going to be seen, read and digested.

AA: How will digital media change the day-to-day lives of consumers, and what will those changes mean to the marketers that are trying to reach them?

MR. CUBAN: Everything becomes small and transportable. From your iPod to phone to PDA, they are all consolidating features and mimicking each other. The result of this is that digital is no longer something new, it's just a utility like electricity. It's part of life and we won't even consider it different, because analog is quickly disappearing.

Which in turn means that we will want all of our media when, where and how we want it. Want the highlights of the game? They will come to you on phone, PDA, iPod, portable hard drive, whatever.

Then the bigger trend becomes that not only can we get media/info anywhere, we will save it and carry it with us. ... Marketers better realize that TV is a way to present concepts and products, and create a perception of both. It's still the only real shared medium.

From there, we will pick and choose the things we like and want, and consume them digitally, how, where and when we want. Whether it's a shampoo commercial we like, a TV show, a movie, music, home videos or medical info.