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Art & Commerce: Broad Shoulders

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In the future, there will be no media--only content
For years, people have heralded the unification of form and function--the medium is the message. In 2000, one would expect that the stated goal of marketers to integrate their messages seamlessly into the minds and lives of consumers would have spawned the creation of a seamless medium to disseminate those messages.
It used to be that the newest medium to roll off the assembly line was considered the most effective for branding--print gave way to radio, which yielded to TV. But with dozens of avenues now available, the marketing world is operating under a general veil of confusion, as it attempts to determine the value of each separate medium to its ultimate goal of seamless message integration. In the minds of many professionals, decisions on media placement are becoming infinitely more difficult.
While TV executives scramble to create tracking stocks to ward off the loss of marketing dollars to the Internet, print mavens continue to search for ways to make money from their content online. Both are missing a key strategy that would render their fears obsolete. Instead of preparing to battle with what they see as escalating competition, these players should focus on cooperative opportunities--namely, broadband Internet connections.
In its presently conceived state, broadband will improve the lives of many, especially individuals with less educational background than the Net's current population. But broadband, in a slightly different sense of the term, will have an impact on media consumption that moves beyond the bounds of the Internet.
We are headed toward a time when the distinctions we now place between physical media will disappear. In their place, we'll find broadband in its most robust incarnation: a universal medium prioritizing function and content, information and entertainment. Then, more slowly but just as surely, a deterioration of the concept "media" will occur.
On a basic level, the activities consumers perform online complement their interactions with other media more often than they duplicate or replace those actions. But on closer inspection, online users tend to use the specific Internet-based functions not available from other media--from streaming real-time stock quotes to the retrieval of sports statistics more detailed than those available on TV or in newspapers.
Consumers are quickly acting on the desire to integrate media. To date, one-fifth of online users in this country have downloaded music from the Internet; the same is true of files containing video clips. Broadband will speed this trend.
The market stands in an ideal situation for media integration; both consumers and powerful suppliers would benefit from this change. Consumers have begun to express their opinions. Now it's up to the suppliers to transform the hodgepodge of complicated tools into a seamless state of information dissemination. Only then will we eliminate many of the marketing problems we have slowly brought upon ourselves and enable the most effective communication possible. K
Gad Romann is CEO of The Romann Group in New York.