I don't know a better way to capture the power of it other than to express my own amazement. Each time I spend a few hours listening to conference speakers-as I did earlier this month at the 4A's media gig, at the worst hotel in New Orleans-or chatting over Cobb salads with an industry executive, I find myself swamped with more information, ideas and insights than can easily be digested.
Pity the Ad Age editors and reporters at the receiving end of my subsequent flurry of e-mails and phone calls. I also fill my own in-box with reminder notes, lists of people to meet, companies to follow up with, Web sites to visit and technologies to comprehend.
The thing is, I'm not alone. There's a misperception that all of those people slamming away with their thumbs on Blackberry keyboards during conference panel discussions are bored with the content of the programs. My theory is that they're taking the ideas sparked by the stage debates, putting them into words and beaming them to others before the insight is buried under an avalanche of provocative thoughts. (OK, some of them may also be confirming restaurant reservations. But still.)
Consider the rapid penetration and easy consumer acceptance of video on demand. Cellphones that play broadcast-quality music videos and weather forecasts. Video games with ad messages that can be swapped out online in real time. Streaming audio. Pod-casting. Text messages. Instant messaging. Google. TiVo.
The decline of mass marketing. The rise of new platforms. The debate over whether contact (media) or content (ad creative) should take the lead. Consumer control-and the eagerness of empowered audiences to use digital technology to divorce marketing material from entertainment and information.
This isn't some dark vision of the terrifying implications of a future that may or may not come to pass. It's the reality of marketing circa the ides of March 2005. Beware.
Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, said in New Orleans that his cable company-which today must be recognized as one of advertising's new powers-will offer as many as 10,000 VOD programs in a few months, most of them free to subscribers. In Philadelphia, where it has aggressively pushed VOD, 69% of Comcast cable homes accessed on-demand programming in January, Roberts said, while 81% used it over the last three months. Nationally, Comcast counts 21.5 million subscribers. Its cable rivals also get the power of on-demand.
Much of the VOD viewing action is in what Roberts called cable's "big four" of sports, news, movies and kids programming. "My goal is to make 1 billion TV impressions happen on demand in 2005," he said. "The usage is a quite exciting trend."
Will advertising be a part of it? "We're on the leading edge of developing new advertising applications," said Roberts. Those range from a General Motors VOD showcase channel on Comcast's Philadelphia system to Fruity Pebbles cereal's sponsorship of Cartoon Network programming to the ability to update creative messages in on-demand shows. But unless marketers advance more creative solutions, this segment potentially moves forward with only limited ad involvement. Think consumers won't pay for content without the subsidy of ad dollars? Think again. Or, better yet, eye your own monthly cable bill and add up your iTunes invoices.
This marketing revolution is neither theoretical, nor overblown. It's under way.
But this is not a time for fear, resistance, denial or defensiveness-despite the natural inclination to protect an existing pile of cash. It's the most exciting time ever to be in or around the businesses of media, marketing and communications.
You can feel it, too. I know you can.