Have a Backup Plan for Broadband

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It's getting bloody out there -- and reading the epitaph of famous streaming sites is becoming far too regular an occurrence. Since March, when the downturn in the Nasdaq signaled that the laws of economic gravity were being reinstituted for dot-coms, well-funded organizations such as DEN, Pseudo and Pop.com have had to bow to the harsh realities of business economics and shut their doors.


It's a good business strategy to come to the party early so that when the waves of broadband-enabled Internet surfers arrive, your company enjoys a "first mover advantage." But when you're buzzing around the streaming media punch bowl in search of customers and find only competitors and other companies in the streaming media supply chain, what's your Plan B to stay in business?


The good news is that this is merely a test of endurance, because broadband is coming. Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA, The Yankee Group, Boston, and other soothsayers predict that broadband users will number in the tens of millions within the next few years. But today, U.S. broadband users number in the 5 million range and have not reached that critical mass of traffic that allows banner advertising revenue to pay the bills.


While millions of dial-up users also visit streaming media-centric sites, their experience is less satisfactory because without broadband, users are sometimes relegated to watching a postage stamp-sized screen running at six frames to 10 frames per second. This may be marginally acceptable for those dial-up users that are patient and have found compelling content, but it's not a product that's ready for prime time.


Two proven techniques for everyone's Plan B are to identify alternative sources of revenue and to increase marketing efficiency. The following are a few specific tactics to help start the process.


Play the syndication card. If banner advertising doesn't pay the bills, content providers must identify new revenue streams to sustain their business until broadband users reach a critical mass.


One strategy of monetizing yesterday's content is syndication. While there are several Web-based syndicators, such as iSyndicate and ScreamingMedia, content providers should choose wisely by talking to several syndicators to ensure that the brand equity inherent in their content is protected and that their revenue is maximized. Syndication of content also helps your content live longer and allows content providers to gain brand awareness.


Migrate sponsorship from the Web site to the content. Banner ads have been losing some of their effectiveness during the past couple years as measured by click-through percentages. And some advertising agencies, impatient that a national network that allows rich media advertising to be seamlessly inserted into streaming content doesn't yet exist, consider banners ads to be as useful as using print advertising on television.


Plan B could include establishing a sponsorship program directly into streamed content itself.


Since streaming content is considerably shorter than television, a 15 second to 20 second sponsorship should occur either at the beginning or at the end of the content. And, sponsors would view front-end placement as more valuable and should be willing to pay a premium for it.


Negotiate editorial control over the look and feel of the sponsorship and the right to veto sponsorship messages that are objectionable, because this is a closer relationship than Web site page sponsorship, and viewers will subconsciously link the content and the sponsor.


Increase the size of your audience without paying for a marketing campaign. If free promotion of your streaming content is an objective, there are several streaming media navigation sites to consider.


For example, Scour.com emphasizes streaming audio and, with its Hollywood connections, is a good place to be promoted. The "TV Guides of the Internet" are no-cost ways for content providers to promote themselves to a qualified audience seeking streaming media content.


Learn through colleagues' experiences. It's likely that your company is not the only one to experience the birthing pains of this emerging streaming media industry. Publications such as the Industry Standard provide subscribers insights into what tactics have worked -- or not -- in related industries. As an example, perhaps it makes sense to review your list of primary vendors and suppliers and solicit a strategic investment from several of them.


Next, how do you create brand equity and awareness with loyalty programs, banner exchanges, contests and viral marketing? Read related publications along with pencil and paper for taking notes. There's no extra credit earned by reinventing the marketing wheel. Do it the easy way, and learn from others' mistakes and successes.


So Plan B is under way, and your proactive strategy is beginning to bear fruit. What do you do next? Monitor your results and make corrections as appropriate. Continue to think outside the box. Before you know it, the trickle of broadband customers will become a torrent, and they will reward those streaming media content providers that not only have first market advantage, but also were smart enough to have developed a Plan B.


• Don Kent is CEO of eCablevision Consulting, Carmel, IN. Reach him at DonaldAKent@aol.com.

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