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December 14, 2006

Promotion Marketing Association Law Conference: Report From the Field Part Two

One thread of discussion to come out of the Promotion Marketing Association Law Conference was the fragmentation of media distribution, and hence the opportunities of marketers to effectively disseminate ads to consumers.  The industry recognizes that eyes are shifting to the Internet and to content available via traditional computer set-ups, portable wireless devices, cell phones, MP3 players, hard drive recorders, and any combination of these items.  Broad thinkers at the conference believe that the holy grail of device convergence will take place at some point. 

We have seen it before when technologies become entrenched and it seems as if nothing will ever replace them.  Television is like that.  Then video recorders arrived, first Beta, and then VHS.  Beta died an early death and VHS seemed as if it would stick around forever, at least in 1990.  The only people who buy VHS machines are the people who want to copy old tapes to their DVD recorders.  Even that activity is pointless given the amount of television shows that are available for purchase on disc, unless one feels that the commercials are quaint.  Now DVD and DVD burners replace tapes, and DVDs are starting to be replaced by High-Definition television and two new hi-def disc formats.  New televisions are more like computers than traditional sets with rabbit ears.  How long before these last before they are modified and consolidated with features that will put them in the living room.  The vision of what comes next may be a bit fuzzy, as well as the time it takes.  But consolidation into that ubiquitous device that combines video, audio, entertainment, communication, and games is coming.  And it will be supported by ads.  Another vision mentioned as anticipated is that land lines will likely disappear for most consumers in about five years.  Everyone will use cell phones.  Five years ago that would be though outrageous.  Today the prospect doesn’t seem as unlikely, whether or not it comes true.

There was some speculation that content we now pay for could be free in an ad supported environment.  This may already be taking place.  Universal Music Groups announced a while back that they were going to build an ad supported site that would give away music.  They recently struck a deal with YouTube to distribute Universal owned media.  Even if the money comes from YouTube/Google, ads are paying the fees.

The related discussion thread was getting the best bang for the buck given the delivery options for content.  That led into privacy rights, data collection and retention, targeting consumers, and data breaches.  Lest anyone doubt it, the Federal Trade Commission is highly concerned about identity theft.  Collecting and retaining consumer data is not a good or bad idea, nor is targeting ads to consumers on the basis of this data.  Exposing data to potential breaches, not following good practices in terms of encrypting data or keeping it secure is a problem.  That’s where the Commission has the greatest concern. 

Just during the days around the conference UCLA had a major hacker breach, and Boeing lost a laptop with sensitive employee data on it. Thirty-some states have laws on the books dealing with this, with some federal legislation covering the issue.  However, there are expectations that this next Congress will address the use of citizen data that may pre-empt state laws.  Senator Patrick Leahy, the incoming chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee promised legislation on the issue.  Whether the Senate remains in democratic hands (that depends on the health of Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota) will not likely deter some type of legislation from being seriously considered this term.  Panelists predicted that some type of comprehensive federal legislation will eventually be enacted.  The question really is where the balance between marketing and consumer rights will take place.  Let the lobbying begin.

All in all, the ideas of the panelists and the speakers were highly provocative with far-reaching implications for the tech industry.  Whenever I’ve given any type of lecture covering Internet-based legal research, I remind the audience that the Internet was not designed as a public service to disseminate government information and legal material.  Oh, it’s not that anyone regrets the ability to research.  It’s just that the technology and the incremental developments that streamline web surfing are designed to sell us movie tickets, DVDs, books, electronics, and other material goods.  From my perspective, government information on the web is a secondary purpose.  I have not changed that view after this conference.  Just wait for the day when a JSTOR subscription becomes cheaper when the search results come to you with a message from the good folks at Coca-Cola.  That's not a panelist prediction, but one of mine.

I’ll write a short warp-up on the conference on Friday.

December 14, 2006 | Permalink

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