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Taking the Initiative

by Glen Emerson Morris
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The DSS home satellite dish system from RCA offers a very mixed blessing for advertisers and marketers. The positive side is that offers a low cost way to send advertising and other electronic publications directly to millions of consumers. The negative side is that it also offers dozens of channels of commercial free audio and video channels, and soon millions of consumers will be tuning them in, instead of channels with commercials.

The DSS service typifies the kind of challenge facing advertisers and marketers in the digital revolution as media costs continue to plummet. Production and distribution costs of mass media have traditionally been so high that content providers, like newspapers and the TV networks, had to aggressively solicit advertising to subsidize costs. Mass communication was impossible without advertising, and this gave advertisers a great deal of clout and presence. However, new digital technology is driving costs so low that advertisers are being left out of the loop.

Many content providers correctly saw DSS as a way to bypass advertisers and sell directly to consumers. Advertisers have yet to see that DSS, on the converse, is also a way for them to reach consumers directly, bypassing the distractions associated with content providers. This is unfortunate, because DSS offers a near perfect solution for the key problem facing any business wanting to distribute advertising material electronically--the limited bandwidth of current telephone technology. Electronic catalogs are too big to be sent over the Internet.

DSS receivers can handle huge volumes of digital data, and have been designed to easily plug into ordinary home computers. By simply tuning in the right channels, a consumer could download large electronic documents from the DSS satellite directly to their home computer, bypassing printing and shipping charges.

To date, RCA has not announced plans to transmit this kind of data on the DSS system, offering only vague speculation on what might eventually be available. With everyone from Apple to Macy's in some stage of going on-line on the Internet, and releasing catalogs on CD's, it may not be too long before enough demand will exist to encourage RCA to offer data transmission services.

DDS and the Internet can be combined to create a seamless, and very low cost, advertiser to consumer communication system. Consumers would use the Internet to place orders, and find out what frequency, and when, to tune in for the latest catalog. Eventually, most major catalogs will be broadcast 24 hours a day by satellite to virtually every point on the planet. Off the shelf products like Adobe Acrobat and Common Ground already allow any DTP created document to be viewed on nearly all home computers.

DSS is a threat the advertising industry can't afford to ignore. The audience numbers DSS foreshadows don't support one major network, let alone three. In a few years, the majority of affluent consumers will have the option of choosing a commercial free media environment, and millions of them will.

Advertisers will have to learn to aggressively make room for themselves in the new media environments. The ratio of commercial channels to commercial free will continue to deteriorate until advertisers counter with more commercial only channels, and in all formats, radio, video, and print.

DSS, like most innovations, is a double edged sword. Advertisers will have to learn to use the edge it gives them.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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