Conversations with people outside of our industry are often as instructive as those with knowledgeable people inside. Several times lately, from press and analysts looking for simplistic answers to complex issues, the obvious question of "what will we do when we reach capacity" is raised.
Last year, Bob Garfield, mostly known for his creative musings and evaluations, opined on a much bigger topic he called An Impending Period of Transitional Chaos for Media. This can be heard on an NPR podcast or in the original article published by Ad Age (registration required). One of his points in the article is that if we are successful on the web we are going to just plain run out of inventory on the web before the web gets to full maturity.
So, does the specter loom? That of sold-out inventory and no room for growth or growth that slows to single digits, the dearth of all "hot" media?
No it does not. There are a lot of ways to keep increasing revenue for the web. I'm going to recount the ones that come to mind, but I'd also be interested in input from any readers.
First of all, we can always raise prices. You know, the old supply and demand story. TV has taken advantage of this for decades.
Next, our technology is just now being deployed to many more places. This provides more inventory to sell. Third screens (mobile) are just the start of it. There are those who would have us believe that we will have car screens (part of a navigation system) and I cannot see why not. The marriage of a web browser, local search and an appetite make this a slam dunk. Any doubt that we will eventually get that kitchen screen we've always talked about? I'd prefer mine embedded into the kitchen counter, please, not on the fridge. I'm sure that there are many more possibilities being developed.
Usage will grow as the younger web target ages.
Another application of technology besides increased number of places is represented by Web 2.0 tools like Ajax. Under Ajax, elements of pages will update without the whole page needing to refresh. This then asks the questions a) what relevance do page views have any more and what are they, and b) at what point do we refresh the ad? Should there be a standard after which a new ad is rotated in? Is that five seconds, 15, 30 or 60? Or is it when a certain number of mouse movements have happened? What is going to be acceptable? Whatever it is, we are looking at a scenario that produces more impressions than traditional page views do.
No question that creative can play in this, too. We've already got overlays of rich media over other ads on the page. Pop-ups are not working in their original implementation as they are too bothersome and clutter producing. But could another, friendlier implementation come along? Where there is a need, there is a way.
Product placement will grow on the web as we develop more techniques to embed messaging in content. Vibrant Media just scratches the surface of this.
Another area just starting to take off is targeting. Whether it be behavioral (tracking a person), relevancy (finding the right bucket of impressions), or some new method, be assured that there will be lots of ways to sell you impressions against the right people outside of the obvious, contextual areas.
Audience development is a trade that has languished since the bubble burst. For you newbies, this is the art of growing your audience by buying page views cheaper than you can sell inventory. This can be done through external methods such as site promotion (on other sites or in other media) or internal methods that make your site more sticky. Given what has happened with the page view to visitor relationship on MySpace, look for everyone to figure out how to include social networking on their sites in the next year (just like they have included search in the past several years).
Lastly, Web 2.0 and 3.0 will produce even more technologies that we cannot even imagine today. And these technologies, as well as a lot of the options shown above, can produce higher premiums. So, with apologies to Mr. Garfield and others who believe that we will top out before long, we've really just begun. This medium will once again show that it is like no other.
David L. Smith is CEO and founder of Mediasmith, Inc., a San Francisco-based media agency. Read bio here.