As a popular-culture junkie, I'm one of those people who's into all kinds of media-TV, radio, newspapers, CDs, computers, video, whatever. Put it in front of me, I'll watch, read or listen.
The problem is, every time I sit in front of the tube, I get restless. I figure out of 75 channels there ought to be something capable of holding my attention for more than a few minutes. But most of the time, I find myself hammering down on the on/off button and heading out of the bedroom.
To be fair, there is some good stuff on TV, like sports on ESPN and documentaries on Discovery. PBS occasionally comes up with some interesting fare-that is, when I don't have to listen to them asking for money. Of course, I get my nightly dose of O.J. and other assorted murder and mayhem on CNN and the local news.
But the fact is, I just don't like TV in its present form. There are very few programs I find interesting. And I have a sneaking suspicion millions of other people feel the same way I do.
TV is a one-way, closed medium programmed primarily for the largest common denominator. In an online environment, anything goes, from the smallest niche service to what typically might be considered "broadcasting."
Maybe that's why going online seems so compelling. Increasingly, I find myself glued to the computer screen instead of the TV. And it's the quantity of "programming," not necessarily the quality of what's online, that has held my attention thus far.
Put simply, TV is losing me to cyberspace. When I watch TV I rarely pay attention to the ads. But when I'm interacting with a forum, newsgroup, Web document or any number of other online products, I pay attention to what they're telling and/or selling me far more than I ever did with TV. It's like picking out magazines from a vast electronic news rack. Except I'm able to do things like talk back to publishers and get additional information at will.
The point is, somewhere out there, buried in this glut of digital offerings, is the future of media. I have no doubt when the cable companies and telephone companies eventually roll out their TV-based services I'll tap into them, too.
But all we ever hear from them is they're doing this test here and that merger there, and none of it has reached my doorstep yet. The online world is open for business on my computer, right now, and I'm using it.
True, much of what's available online is crude text with limited graphics. Security is a problem, and there are no audience numbers to speak of. Getting on the Internet is a pain. However, there are some very good products coming onto the market which make logging on much more simple.
The naysayers will call me an "early adopter," and thus not statistically significant. They'll point out that audience numbers generated by many broadcast programs exceed the total population of the Internet. And, to some extent, they've got a point. But frankly, I'm not concerned with these arguments.
That's because a lot of the old rules don't apply in this new-media environment. Online users tend to be educated, technically fluent people with high incomes looking for specific information and products. They're the kind of prospects marketers drool over. And if you haven't already done so, I recommend getting online and seeing who's there.
Try accessing one of the "Yellow Pages" books on the Internet. Every day something new pops up. True, making money in this area is still very questionable. And it's doubtful you can ever get 40 million impressions in one whack like you can with a broadcast vehicle. But the bottom line for advertisers is results.
Unlike TV, cyberspace offers marketers the ability to zero in on specific demo preferences. Selling in this environment requires low-profile, niche-oriented approaches. Pushy marketers force-feeding programming to subscribers have been highly unsuccessful.
If you're interested in selling online, identify likely programming vehicles (or create them) and define ways of qualifying prospects so your product is able to sell itself. Eschew traditional broad-based plans and, if necessary, segment products into focused areas.
Find out what people want, then give it to them. Take a value-added approach. It's possible to garner tremendous amounts of information from users without being intrusive.
Interactivity and information retrieval are, after all, what people use this medium for. Make it work to your advantage.
James McBride is a New York-based writer and consultant specializing in interactive and online issues. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]