Stations and the Web: No Pain, No Gain

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We’ve seen the future, and it’s playing on an iPod screen. As Steve Jobs unveiled the all-new iPod with video and Robert Iger announced that ABC programming would be available on iTunes, we experienced a tectonic shift in media. As Jobs puts it, “The first step is often the hardest, and we’ve just taken it.”

Say hello to Web 2.0. That’s what the old dotcomers are calling the startlingly fast growth of broadband Internet connections. This year, the share of Americans with broadband access at home swelled from 36% in January to 42% by August, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Traditional-media execs should be worried. The industry already suffers from anemic audience and revenue growth. Broadcasting, once the only game in town, now must compete against a gob of new broadband alternatives that will include TV, movies and videogames.

The new breed of advertising creative types is already ahead of the curve. They think critical mass, as in mass audience, has arrived on the Web. Florida-based advertising firm Crispin Porter & Bogusky created the most successful car launch in history with the Mini Cooper by using the Web. It never ran a single TV commercial.

That’s enough to keep a station manager up at night. The numbers don’t lie. Web-based ad spending will grow a head-snapping 34% this year to $12.9 billion, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Experts predict that number could double by 2010.

When VCRs came along, it took a 10-year-old rocket scientist to keep the darn thing from blinking 12:00. For the moment at least, the same may be true for Internet downloads. Meanwhile, broadcast TV still attracts large audiences, and advertisers still pay a premium price to reach them. But it’s a good bet the next 10 years won’t look anything like the last 10. Linear programming and audience flow may go the way of the typewriter.

What should broadcasters do? Start by putting everything on the Web. Right now. Everything. Provide podcasts and blogs. Then, combine technology with research and get to know the audience on the Web. Learn what kind of cars users drive, what foods they eat, where they live and what other media they use. Build communities around those interests with content and marketing messages.

Web 2.0 will bring a kind of democracy to television. Much like blogs, the audience will be able to make and distribute their own TV. Local TV news may be available from the fancy studios at the local station or from the kid down the street working out of his garage. But both will play just fine on an iPod.

Swanson is VP of marketing for QBInternational, a provider of game-based E-learning media, based in San Rafael, Calif.

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