Get a (Second) Life, Media

TV, Print Need to Re-create Offline Experiences Online in Virtual World

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Perhaps fearful of missing the next big thing, brand marketers haven't skipped a beat on the rising popularity of the Second Life virtual world.
Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel Credit: JC Bourcart

They're erecting huge pavilions to serve the community. Starwood Hotels has opened a hotel that doesn't even exist right now in real life. Retailers such as American Apparel are testing Second Life as an emerging channel for selling both virtual and physical jeans. And if you visit Dell's island, you can sit down at a console, build a custom PC and order it. They're adding value to the experience, but there's more.

Commerce, or at least the potential for it, is also a key motivator. According to Second Life creator Linden Labs, residents spent $9 million this year -- much of it with each other. Business is growing in the 3-D community at a 12% monthly clip and is up 287% year-over-year. Small as it is, it shows promise.

The media, to their credit, are also in the house. Reuters has created News Center to present world and business news in text, video and audio. It also has a reporter inside the world to field stories. CNET and Wired have -- or will have -- virtual offices for hosting events. And CBS is launching a virtual version of "Big Brother," pitting three Second Life residents against each other. None of these initiatives yet are supported by advertising.

The media have an opportunity to create community in Second Life by taking offline experiences and bringing them online in a powerful way. In the process, they will attract new citizens. For example, every TV network should have an island where it hosts viewing parties that allow residents to view live broadcasts, including ads. This would replicate the kind of weekly communing that already exists online in living rooms around the country.

Newspapers and magazines, which don't have a significant presence in Second Life, have an even bigger opportunity. They can re-create the tangible newsstand-browsing experience so many of us love by building a virtual one. Residents would be able to browse and purchase electronic single copies as well as real-world subscriptions.

All of the efforts so far are just experiments. And it's great to see marketers in place. Now we need more media partners, perhaps giving rise to an advertising economy analogous to what lives offline.

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Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.
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