Ad Execs Huddle on Web Standards

SAN FRANCISCO (06/11/2000) - In the face of a dramatic drop in the percentage of Web viewers who click on banners - from 3 percent when they were introduced to a miserable 0.5 percent today - advertisers and agencies began to talk this week about setting standards for streaming media, pinning their hopes on broadband.

Fifteen representatives from such firms as Bell Atlantic, Ogilvy One and National Broadcast Media Web met in New York this week to establish the Streaming Media Advertising Advisory Council steering committee, which says it will tackle audience measurement, ad models and ad serving.

"People recognize that it's time for action," says Jon Mandel, managing director of MediaCom and a member of the committee's steering committee. "Wake up boys and girls, we have to deal with convergence."

Many industry insiders have high hopes for widespread broadband adoption and are praying that it can help speed the evolution of alluring, rich-media Net ads.

"Broadband clearly is not here today. However, streaming media is - you can show a TV commercial on a 14.4 modem today," says Nick Pahade, chief strategic officer at Beyond Interactive. "But broadband will definitely change advertising's future."

The first online ad banners were introduced in 1995 and quickly became the standard format for online ads. However, most advertisers are less than enthused with the effectiveness of static banners.

Streaming media, or media that moves, talks, jumps, sings or dances on a viewer's screen, is believed by advertisers to be much more appealing to Web surfers. But until now, few computers have had the bandwidth to handle fancy graphics and interactive whirligigs.

According to the New York-based research firm Jupiter Communications, advertising placed against streaming media content will reach $7.3 billion in 2003, more than 63 percent of all online advertising. And preliminary studies show that streaming ads result in higher click-through rates and can therefore command higher ad rates.

The advantages of convergence are clear to marketers who would like to see Internet advertising evolve from a direct-marketing medium to a brand-building and awareness form of advertising. Still, executives recognize that standards need to be reached before all ad networks will accept streaming ad and big agencies will pitch them to clients.

"When you are trying to get millions of dollars from clients, you don't want three separate and conflicting sets of numbers," says Mandel. "Standards make people feel safe." SMAAC wants to raise basic questions so that it can begin establishing standards.

"How long should an audio ad run, 3 seconds or 30?" asks Pahade. "What will be the protocols for buying and selling? How do we compare audience measurement?

How do we serve and track these streaming ads?"

Executives want these questions answered so that standards are in place and the industry can move forward. "We'll be able to drag offline media into a converged media world and break down media budget silos," Mandel says. Of course establishing standards might not be easy.

SMAAC, which has an open membership, says it is focused exclusively on advertising issues related to streaming media and will not duplicate the efforts of other interactive-ad-standards groups.

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