Wednesday, September 20, 2000

The Golden Age of Online Entertainment Has Just Begun

The Information Age is Over.

And the Golden Age of Online Entertainment has just Begun!
(First Published: Wednesday, September 20, 2000 by clickz)

There are many issues facing media producers who create content for the World Wide Web. These issues affect those of us who enhance the online experience with music, sound design, and audio-specific programming.

Today, ideas demand to be manifest. But tempering the speed of development is the fact that we in audio must wait until our design and programming counterparts implement their contributions before we make ours.

Looming on the horizon is the promise of broadband and convergence. But the horizon is not close enough for those of us who need to make a living today. Especially when traditional forms of production are jeopardized by each technological advance. Digital television recording will wipe out traditional advertising, so they say.

They also say content providers are wary of adding audio because of a perspective that it slows downloads. Where does that leave those of us in the music-production community? Will we be out of our jobs?

If the truth be told, it's a waiting game. Those who can hold their breath longest will survive. And then there will be more work out there than before, and we'll have to learn new techniques and habits again and again before a stable format arrives.

I propose a shift in the way we perceive the online public. We think of them as users, consumers, eyeballs. I say every new person who logs on is less a user and more a member of a growing audience. And audiences demand to be entertained.

Specific to my profession, producing original music and sound design, scoring the web is like scoring a magazine. Audio is a smattering of effects that respond to "clicks." But as the Internet paradigm becomes more like television, audio for the web will become like scoring video or film, albeit a film that one never experiences the same way twice.

It's only a matter of time before television-style web spots replace banner ads as the online ad model. This is good for music and sound houses: A web spot for one product might target a certain demographic - people looking for a car - and the score will be different for subsets. Seniors might hear one track, Boomers another. Gen Xers another still.

How will this get accomplished in a cost-effective manner? Along with a final track, music production houses of the near future will deliver algorithms along with tracks that will convert their original score into another desired style.

And while web spots will be the focus of online advertising, the Internet allows for other formats as well. One growing trend is how content providers are discovering that online games created specific to their sites bring in more eyeballs than, say, simply a banner for a product. The thinking is entertain the audience, and eventually it'll buy something. It already works for television. Game development creates a huge market for designers, programmers, and sound providers.

The same demands for audio on web spots and online games apply to web sites. As broadband opens up and media companies merge with Internet-access companies, Internet users will devolve back into spectators of the unfolding digital pageant.

We are leaving the hunting-and-gathering stage of the Internet. It's no longer about providing dry information but about packaging our brand in a stimulating wrapper to an online spectator. We already pass sites that offer little in their design. Soon sites without sound will seem flat, and even the most utilitarian web destinations will have to consider their entertainment value factor.

Think of the evening news. Theoretically, the news is a simple service: information. But news producers understand that turning service into entertainment and packaging it with exciting graphics and music makes people watch.

Given a choice, audiences don't buy bland. By necessity, audio will play a larger role on the web. But we must move beyond the currently acceptable stock clicks and boinks that continue to be the developer's easiest choice.

Online audio can be very effective. But only if composed with the same care we bring to broadcast. And it must be used judiciously. Use audio to brand your site. Then the eyeballs won't be turning off the sound. Instead, they'll be transfixed. You would be hard put to find an AOL user who isn't delighted to hear "You've Got Mail." A significant portion of AOL's audience lives to hear that announcement. That's branding with audio. And when it works, you're not just a pixel in cyberspace, but a destination site people can't wait to return to.


Terry O'Gara is the Executive Producer of Blister Media, a music and sound design firm in New York City. His background includes studies in classical and electronic music composition, and his travels to South America and the Mideast have influenced his general aesthetic. Blister Media provides original material for interactive media, advertising, and broadcast promotions.

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