The Biz: Publishers bet on Tablet PC content

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Content is coming soon to one of the high-tech world's latest thrills-the Tablet PC. Sleek and portable, the Tablet PC serves both as a laptop and digital notepad and is the latest salvo by the slumping computer industry to stoke demand for a new generation of wireless devices.

Conde Nast Publications' The New Yorker, The Financial Times, Forbes, Microsoft Corp.'s online publication Slate and a handful of international publications will launch e-periodical versions of their content on forthcoming Tablet PC models. The e-periodical versions of the publications are expected to debut by the second quarter, depending on software development tweaks and tests with publishers.

Microsoft is betting big on the Tablet PC, pouring $400 million into developing the operating system and handwriting-recognition tools that allow users to write directly on the Tablet's screen. The software kingpin has committed $70 million to market the device-built by several PC manufacturers, including Acer, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Compaq brand and Toshiba. As with most emerging tech products, the Tablet PC, which launched in November, will attract early adopters, mobile professionals and business customers first. Gartner's Gartner G2 unit projects that 50,000 Tablet PCs will be sold in the fourth quarter 2002 and 425,000 by year's end 2003, or 1% of all mobile PC sales.

"Microsoft is really committed to creating a viable model for the viewing and reading of magazines and newspapers on the Tablet PC," says Grant Duers, director-ePeriodicals, Advanced Reading Technologies Group, Microsoft.

Advertisers in the print editions of the participating publishers can extend their messages to the Tablet PC, enhancing them with streaming audio and video, building in lead generation, loyalty and promotion vehicles. Advertisers could use broadcast TV creative on the Tablet PC and extend it beyond the typical 30- and 60-second time frame. The e-periodical versions of the content can be downloaded into the Tablet PC for reading during a commute or while on a business trip. While the participating publishers will leverage existing content from their print and digital editions, original content for the Tablet PC will eventually create unique sponsorship opportunities for advertisers.

unique content

"If the media partners are just talking about putting their online content on [the Tablet PC] it won't have nearly the same traction as if there is something unique to the medium," says John Klein, executive media director, McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C. At least two of the Havas Advertising agency's clients, Audi of America and Nasdaq, which also advertise in The New Yorker, will appear on the Tablet PC, along with several others that New Yorker Publisher David Carey declined to name. No rate card exists yet for advertisers. Some of the initial advertisers are participating as an extension of existing ad deals with the New Yorker. Volvo will advertise on the Tablet PC via Slate.

Audi is also keen, according to Mary Ann Wilson, Audi's national advertising manager: "It's perfect from an Audi perspective because Audi is all about advanced technology and innovation, if our potential owners and prospects are there then we feel we should be too." The hook, Wilson adds, is the Tablet PC's potential to have print, interactive and TV media in one place and to do lead generation.

early support

Carey has been an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Tablet PC. "The opportunity exists for us to do something that some advertisers have been able to do well on the Web, but now approximating what you might see on TV ... there will be a range of richness," he says. That range will run the gamut with a "mix of static and then varying levels of deep, rich media." Carey expects to offer the e-periodical version of his magazine for a free trial period, followed by a paid period, the lengths and price of which have yet to be determined. "For the first `real' edition, we will have some rich ads designed just for the Tablet," he says.

"You can potentially do long-form advertising and craft deep content that would emulate the content of a Web site or could link you to a Web site," McKinney's Klein says. "The way we're looking at it from a media and a creative perspective is that this medium allows us to use a new technology to basically merge different kinds of advertising content," he adds.