INTERACTIVE: BEHIND THE HYPE/WEBCASTING: How advertisers can hook into a live audience on the Net - Gordon MacMillan reports on how live broadcasting may change clients’ views that the Web is too static

One criticism advertisers level at the Internet is that much of the content is static. It has no sense of time, so online ads are placed with little more than the hope that someone may visit the site and, in turn, see them.

One criticism advertisers level at the Internet is that much of the

content is static. It has no sense of time, so online ads are placed

with little more than the hope that someone may visit the site and, in

turn, see them.



However, there is one way to guarantee that an ad on the Net is seen -

by making it part of a Webcast, a live broadcast across the Internet

using video, audio and interactivity.



Webcasting is still in its infancy, but is fast gaining ground as a way

for advertisers to hook a guaranteed live audience, supplemented by a

stream of people who will return to the Website time and again.



Companies, including United Distillers, Whyte and Mackay, Virgin Radio,

Sony and Bass are among the first to have taken the plunge with

Webcasting.



The technology still has some way to go. Don’t, by any means, get the

impression that you can dial www.blahblahblah.com and find digital

quality sound and images.



Both are pretty poor. Video images are currently only available at a

maximum of 15 frames per second, while one industry figure compared the

quality of the sound to ’driving around the M25 at 9pm listening to AM

radio’.



But things are improving day by day. And it is important to remember

that, unlike TV or radio, the Internet is not simply about sound and

vision, but also about interactivity - about taking part.



It’s early days and Vladivar Vodka is among the pioneers. It was

involved in the first UK Webcast of a live gig, by the Brit poppers,

Supergrass, on 1 March last year, from a Vladivar site created for the

event by Traffic Interactive.



Drew Monro, brand manager on Vladivar, admits it took a leap of faith to

get involved. But PR spin-offs - Traffic is a joint venture involving

the PR agency, Freud Communications - made it successful. On the

Internet itself, an eventual worldwide audience of more than 200,000 was

pulled in.



Vladivar signed up again for the Phoenix Festival in July - the biggest

Webcast to date.



At any time during Phoenix, five live events were on the site, including

performances by headlining bands such as the Manic Street Preachers and

the Prodigy.



Webcasting also neatly sidesteps the need to create a permanent Vladivar

Website, which could end up like so many other branded sites on the

Internet - desperately searching for a purpose.



Alex Johnston, creative director at Freud Communications and a founder

of Traffic Interactive, says: ’The idea was very much ’let’s not build

another site about vodka’. There was a huge debate about the Net, about

giving it substance, and this is what Webcasting does.’



And it is here, Johnston argues, where content producers for the

Internet have slipped up by creating sites that are just about vodka or

beer or cars.



A site has to have a reason for being on the Net, he argues. It must do

something, either provide a useful service or have some other kind of

utility. Webcasting easily satisfies this criterion.



While MTV could have broadcast the Oasis gig live from Loch Lomond in

August, the show would have been much like any other. But the Webcast,

sponsored by United Distillers’ Gingzing and produced by the interactive

specialist, AMX Digital, gave a fresh perspective, including chat with

Noel Gallagher.



Simon Scott, the marketing director of AMX Digital, comments: ’With

Oasis, we broadcast to an audience of 4,000 on the night. During the

following six weeks, an average of 10,000 people a day also listened to

the gig.’ United Distillers was impressed enough to sign up as sponsor

of a second Webcast, this time of Pulp.



Each Webcast to date has moved things on, acting as an evangeliser for

the medium. AMX is now looking to sign a six-band deal; complete tours

are likely to follow.



Other events have also been Webcast, including the premiere of the film,

Feeling Minnesota, and award ceremonies, but live music has most caught

the imagination of advertisers.



This is no less true with Dodgy, which went out live on 13 December.



Together, Virgin Net, Virgin Radio, Sony, eXcite, Hooper’s Hooch and

Palace Interactive produced a Webcast that linked 60 Internet cafes

around the world.



Without going out on a limb, the future looks bright for Webcasting.



For the drinks companies that have mostly shown an interest in financing

it, the practice provides a relatively cheap route to a bit of street

credibility among the young consumers they must attract if their brands

are to survive in the long term. And for those consumers, it offers an

experience that they couldn’t have via any other medium.



How does this sound? Your favourite band is playing an intimate gig to

500 people in Seattle, sponsored by Yadha Beverages. From your bedroom

in Clapham, you log on, pay dollars 20, watch the gig and an interview

with the band then launch into an interactive forum with a few searching

questions of your own.



It will be almost as good as being there and is guaranteed to be better

than MTV.



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