CD-ROMs - be considered more than media extenders, experiments or investments in the future? It's no longer a simple yes-or-no question - 84% of ADWEEK's survey respondents said they were 'moderately interested' or 'very interested' in the technologies - but the how-to remains hopelessly unclear.
The truly change-the-face-of-media media are the ultimate no-shows, with a flagrant dearth of some of the basics - namely, advertisers and users. Betsy Frank, senior vp/director of TV information and new media at Saatchi & Saatchi, explains that emerging media must prove they are up and running, have an audience (not just traffic) and attentiveness and involvement from that audience. Then and only then will the dollars flow their way. Even though advertisers are excited about, say, interactive TV, they see any involvement in current market tests as preliminary efforts.
The most substantive advances in '94 are likely to come from the unlikeliest areas. CD-ROMs, says Ken Wasch, executive director of the Software Publishers Association, are the fastest-growing segment of the software industry. And with computer makers now fitting most new machines with CD-ROM drives, mass duplication driving down costs, and Sega and 3DO pushing games into the home, CD-ROM Technology is sure to skyrocket next year.
John Gale, president of the Information Workstation Group, a multimedia consulting and market research firm in Alexandria, Va., says kiosks, which mostly use CD-ROM technology, will also gain attention next year. These self-contained stations can do anything from sell customized greeting cards to play games to show ads. Though they've been plagued, by failure in the past, due mainly to squabbles over maintenance and placement, Gale predicts that as more people experiment, the form will undoubtedly catch on.
In one venture, Horizons Technology is offering record companies the opportunity to have their videos played on its PICS Preview kiosks. To date, in 700 Kmarts, Wal-Marts and other stores, browsers can preview nearly 100 music videos in full-motion video format. The company says cross-advertising and on-line ordering are next.
As for interactive TV, there will continue to be announcements and forays and tests, like Time Warner's network and EON (formerly TV Answer), the two-way wireless TV system based in Reston, Va. EON has commitments from Domino's and JC Penney, among others, and awaits frequencies from the FCC to broadcast in major cities.
Carlsbad, Calif.-based NTN Communications, which offers games and news in restaurants, bars and hotels, doubled its site list this year. Sambuca will join Miller in advertising on QB1, the channel's game that lets players guess what plays will be called in NFL games. NTN, which now reaches 5 million people a month, according to coo Dan Downs, is 'very, very close' to profitability. But Gale notes there won't be a significant number of end-user connections until the '95-to-97 time frame.
As for on-line services, the wars are bound to escalate this year among the ad-supported Prodigy Services Company, growing competitor America Online (now with 307,000 subscribers), Compuserve and others. Prodigy - with more than 2 million members and an ABC audit in the offing - will come out swinging in a fall 'relaunch' that will include promotional campaigns and new offerings. Mail Manager, for example, will link users with the international Internet network.
Much of Prodigy's campaign will arguably be spent thwarting any backlash to its new pricing strategy, which ups users' on-line costs by charging for a la carte services. 'I think there will be, over time, tremendous disaffection,' says Alan Gottesman, an analyst for PaineWebber, who suggests the pricing may lead subscribers to defect to other services.
Although Prodigy continues to add advertisers to its network, some contend the technology behind on-line services is still to slow and sluggish to be effective. 'It's an idea not ready for primetime,' says Greg Jarboe, pr director for Ziff-Davis, which experimented with advertising on its own on-line service. 'Users didn't respond. The best years in on-line are down the road. When that day arrives, we want to be the first on it.'
Meanwhile, the less alternative alternative media are seeing some mixed success. In-store vehicles, for instance, made up about a $500-million industry this year, according to one analyst. Turner's Checkout Channel checked out - amid complaints about its noise and hassles with participating stores - leaving ActMedia, Checkout Coupon from Catalina Marketing and NBC On-Site as some of the major players. Observers bring up high capital costs and low customization as inherent snags in the development of these ventures thus far.
Other place-based media still pique media buyers' interest but have yet to prove their mettle. 'To me, Whittle's Special Report and Channel One and the Airport Channel are the most important areas,' says Sam Sotiriou, senior vp director of media research at Saatchi & Saatchi. 'Next year will be an ongoing test to prove their value through research.' Channel One is currently in 12,000 schools and Special Report Network is in 32,000 doctor's waiting rooms with Chrysler, Fruit of the Loom and Paramount Pictures, among others, advertising. And the Airport Channel now reaches about 4 million people a month, according to Turner-commissioned Nielsen research.
'The concept (of place-based media) is still valid in terms of reaching people where they're at, where they're going,' especially in light of fragmentation, says Judy Black, senior vp/strategic media project manager at Bozell. 'However, in terms of '94, it's going to be a very slow-growth business.'
As the conventional media continue to fractionalize, marketers will ceaselessly search for new ways to reach and communicate with consumers. The new media is going to be here, warns Saatchi's Frank, 'and whether you define the future as two years, five or 10, you'd better prepare.' The party is just beginning.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)