Art & Commerce: Full Stream Ahead

At least 10,000 people flocked to Streaming Media East 2000 recently, a conference and exhibition aimed at folks laboring to make computers sing and dance with audio and video.
Audio’s no big trick anymore; there are hundreds of radio “stations” using the Internet instead of the ether to transmit programming. But video is still herky-jerky, and the best of it is not as good as most regular TV reception.
Computers were designed to handle and display text and simple, static imagery. TV, by definition, was conceived with motion in mind. Time and technology will close the performance gap, although it’s probably a matter of years, and even then it will take time for people to replace their by-then-obsolete 1,500-Mhz Pentium VIs, or whatever, and hook up to the Internet with the ultra-fast connection needed to get the best results from streaming.
Curiously, out of more than 50 working sessions over the event’s three days, only three covered advertising. Perhaps we’re in a lull. Banner advertising is seen as old hat, and the Internet can’t yet deliver broadcast-quality, full-motion video. Or maybe the “streamers” don’t think they have much to learn from the ad industry.
That may be true, but the reverse surely isn’t, or won’t be. In the years ahead, advertising practitioners may learn a trick or two from their counterparts on the Internet.
The new medium’s big advantage is that it is inherently two-way. Audience measurement can be based on a census, not a sample. And programs that require viewers to log in can contain highly targeted messages, since the sender will know the recipient. A sponsor could, theoretically, “buy” a specific audience–for example, 15 million impressions made by men 18-34 years old–and have the ad run until the target is reached.
Broadcast TV, without some sort of back-haul capability, such as a telephone connection, can’t do this. And in cable TV, which can, system operators have so far been too divided to adopt a common standard, although if they ever do, addressable, targetable and accountable advertising could follow.
Broadcasting will remain a vital medium regardless of what the streamers do, but the two-way feature of the Internet has interesting implications. In the early days, when Internet audiences are relatively small, streaming may be more valuable as a test platform than as an advertising vehicle.
For example, creative executions might be monitored to see which ones hold viewers’ attention. Ads could be tested for wear out. A 30-second spot that rarely gets watched past its
12th second, say, or one that gets zapped right away by viewers who have seen it six or more times, might be sent back to the drawing board for retouching. The data needed to perform these analyses are generated as a byproduct of an ad’s “airing.”
The subject of advertising, with only three out of 52 conference workshops, may not be a front-burner issue for the streamers. But business concerns were clearly important with six sessions on valuation and capital raising, six more on profitability and four on legal matters.