Media and Marketing’s Top Innovations of 2008

Michael Porter, the Harvard Business School professor and economic theorist, calls innovation “the central issue in economic prosperity.” In the midst of the worst economic morass most of us can recall, these are some of the year’s best innovations in media and marketing—some that look to have lasting influence, others that could even prove to be real game changers for digital media, in-store marketers, the TV networks, even architects of political campaigns. Barack Obama, whose team harnessed the power of the Web as no “brand” ever had, changed how political races are run, and won. Apple’s iPhone 3G juiced up the mobile medium. And NBC’s multimedia spectacle from the Beijing Olympics had the quadrennial event finally living up to the hype, and became the standard for how those contests will get played—with or without Michael Phelps’ star turn. (Despite the Web’s encroachment, NBC’s groundbreaking TAMi audience-research initiative, launched during the Games, demonstrates that broadcast TV remains the “bedrock” medium—some good news for the beleaguered networks.) Even slow-to-change, easy-to-write-off old media like magazines and radio came up with some bright ideas—finally learning how digital media can help, rather than kill, their business. In a year as scary looking as ’09, it’s clear more innovation will be required.

—Tony Case, Editor, Special Reports (tony.case@nielsen.com)

Obama: Digital Change Agent
Onetime presidential aspirant Howard Dean proved that the Web could be a force for raising money online. Barack Obama this year took that proposition to an unimagined level, raising a healthy chunk of his nearly $1 billion in campaign contributions online. While marketers have drooled over the Long Tail, Obama grabbed it — attracting more than 1.7 million contributors, with 93 percent of $2.9 million in online donations coming in by way of increments of less than $100. What’s more, the Internet — and social-networking technology in particular — played a critical role in marshalling support for Obama’s historic election. The candidate collected millions of cell phone numbers in the run-up to his selection of Joe Biden as vice president, which then allowed him to send targeted notices of personal appearances and to organize networks of volunteers. “My BO” became a robust social network that helped supporters to self-organize. Even on Twitter, Obama was a star, drawing 146,000 followers of his short-message updates. And since the election, Obama has made strides toward using the Internet beyond organizing a campaign to reimagining government. He moved the fusty weekly presidential radio address to YouTube and launched the ambitious change.gov, where visitors can scan thousands of government jobs, see which groups have lobbied the transition and submit ideas for policy proposals. While marketers have struggled to fully harness Web 2.0 technology, Obama continues to prove its power. -Brian Morrissey

The TAMi Show: NBC’s Multiplatform Olympics
If the XXIX Olympiad will be remembered as a blockbuster (The Phelps Supremacy?), in media circles, the Beijing Games earned its historical bona fides as the first global broadband event. Over the course of two weeks in August, the NBC Universal research team transformed the Olympic Park complex into the world’s largest media laboratory — and from the metaphorical Bunsen burners and test tubes, the company produced TAMi. The culmination of NBC’s early efforts to measure all media exposure, the Total Audience Measurement Index demonstrated that no matter how insidiously the Web continues to encroach on TV’s turf, we’re still very much a civilization of TV viewers. Stacking digital data atop the broad base of TV viewership, the resulting pyramid looks a bit like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with broadcast functioning as the bedrock from which all else rises. A record 211 million people watched at least some portion of the games, and NBC beat its ratings guarantees by well over 10 percent. More importantly, NBC took in some $1.3 billion in ad revenue — of which a relatively tiny $5.75 million was tied to online buys. TAMi proved what many have long suspected: Online and mobile video do not cannibalize live TV broadcasts. And for all the hype, revenue from Web video is still just a rounding error when compared to the dollars TV continues to command. -Anthony Crupi