A Rich Media Pioneer Reemerges: EyeWonder Veers from R&D Flagship to Interactive Leader

Inplace #2

Just to rewind a bit in terms of the impetus of EyeWonder. What initially spurred your interest in the video ads and rich media? How did it come about?

Well, the story in short came about with one of the co-founders of the company, a guy named Jonathan Mellinger, who was a cinematographer, and he had his own reel. He produced TV commercials and he was effectively a video photographer. He wanted to be able to have producers see that reel, and see the quality of production he was able to do on video. Except, he didn’t want to have them have to download a media player because that was a clunky and technically challenging thing to do. He and I knew each other and one thing led to another that we ended up building an entire R&D team to be able to build that.

It sounded like a compelling enough concept if in fact you could make video play without having to worry about the technical problems of it. I said, well…at the time I had owned a media company and I said, “well if we can do that, I think we can also open this up to a heck of a lot of media applications and advertising applications.” So that was really what it centered around. Literally over a Heineken. That was a classic because that was like the Heineken advertising campaign, what happens over a Heineken. You know, friends talking, things like that. That’s how it happened.

Seems like some of the most creative projects just arise from casual conversation and in that moment the light bulb flashes.

Right, and I knew some people that had worked in Kodak development in conjunction with Motorola for the video conferencing and set-top box and chip set. So, I was able to leverage against a tremendous amount of mathematical R&D that already had been underway for about five years for different applications. So that was kind of a head start.

It definitely gives you, especially coming from a rich media background, experience to put things into place for creating a successful company.

Yeah, it allows us to feel very confident. We approach every client with…we want to challenge agencies to be the most creative they could possible be and come up with challenging ideas. And then we figure out how to implement that and make sure it gets done successfully across the Internet. That’s always been our motto. And then it’s on our shoulders to make sure we build technologies in the service side of the business to make that scalable, but the refreshing message, at least the agencies that work with us find that to be very refreshing as opposed to sitting down and saying, “Hey look. Here are the parameters we need to work with.

Here’s the box you kind of have to stay within, otherwise we’re not going to be able to serve this or this style size is going to be a challenge or this is going to be this issue.” That becomes a much more challenging environment to create great, compelling advertising. So by having confidence in our technical abilities, our sales organization is able to fit and literally allow agencies to dream up the next idea and we’re able to get it done.

In terms of “going out of the box”, what are some of the challenges that you currently face? Right now in rich media, there are so many contestants into the fold. What are some of the hurdles that in general the industry is facing and then what you guys have seen in terms of answering a client’s question or trying to basically evolve into the next step?

Well, it’s interesting. In some ways I’ve seen the landscape consolidate. I think there’s actually less true rich media vendors today than certainly when we started. In the year of 2001 and 2002, and eventually in 2003, a lot got weeded out. There may have been as many as 20 or 30 recognized vendors in that space. Today, I would probably say there’s only 4 or 5 that are successful, capable service vendors and true rich media. How I would define those, why there’s only 4 or 5, is you have to have longstanding relationships with the serving and ad-opt relationships at all of the major publishers. Because if you don’t have that in place already, you’re really mis-selling to your customer about one of the biggest challenges, which is, the ad-opt groups are constantly having their consumer experience changed or monitored, so they’ll change the specs if they’re going to accept.
If you’re not up to date on that, and in fact, if you can’t necessarily work with them to make sure that creative experiences that are demanded from the agencies and clients are meeting consumer experiences, in other words information you’re getting from the publishers, you’re kidding yourself if you’re actually going to service one of your clients.

So, there are a handful of companies that actually have that tenure in the business that are capable of meeting that true market need. Now, I think where you see some interesting challenges almost the same as the year 2000 and 2001 when we were trailblazers is moving into some of these new publication routes, such as, interactive television is now becoming TV 2.0.

Even in the Tivo environments, now people are starting to see truly interactive-type experiences and marketing experiences. The Tivo environment is not at a significant reach quite yet, but it’s a compelling idea that we consult and work with clients on, how to be prepared and leverage things that in today’s broadband environment, where there is a lot of reach, and then now make sure you’ve got the skill sets, the knowledge, and planning ahead of the curve as to when that becomes a viable distribution route for mass media.

Is that beneficial to what you guys are doing, the whole TV 2.0 craze, or is it a detriment at this point? Is it something that you’re still trying to figure out, how to balance your strategy with what’s going on now?

Well, our strategy is luckily, in some ways complicated, but in reality, very simple. We listen to our customer. We say, “What are you trying to accomplish?” and then we consult with that customer on how to best leverage against their technologies and our historical knowledge in working with hundreds of millions of dollars to spend that goes through us.

So when you think of new frontiers like TV 2.0, customers are really looking to us as a consultant at that point. They realize that it’s not really primetime yet, and what they’re looking for us is to help protect them to make sure they don’t go down a path with a marketing strategy that ultimately can’t be implemented. They’re very fearful of that. So if you put a plan in place and say 25% of your budget is going down a certain strategy, and you can’t get any eyeballs through that strategy because you made a technical mistake, you’ve got a serious problem. So that’s the kind of request that we’re helping our customers make so that they don’t fall into any of these pitfalls in some of these new frontiers.

Then, if they have a unique marketing plan or objective, say for a wireless environment—maybe there’s some kind of reason why it connects really well with a wireless consumer in conjunction with an online consumer—then they’re looking for us to help bridge the creative gap and also service the multiple vendors involved in that for distribution. In short, they’re like “OK, make it happen.” And they look to us as a group that has years of experience both in the technical and now at the process and transaction layer, of getting it done.

After having been a pioneer in the field, how do you still stay ahead of the competition? What separates you guys in terms of what you’re doing and what’s the value added in terms of going with EyeWonder versus a competitor?

That’s a good question. What has always kept us ahead is being totally customer-centric and not being necessarily driven by say a venture capital backing that says you’ve got to have certain margins otherwise you’re not going to have the right exit. It’s really just listening and focusing on your customer.

For instance, today a big issue has to do with how rich media is built. Historically, it went through publishing sites and that was always a major push by some of our competitors to maintain that because they were really fooling their customers or misleading their customers as to how much it was costing. So the customer was paying, but didn’t know it. It was embedded.

We actually promoted what’s called a direct bill model so that the customer knew exactly what they were paying for and they can allocate budget in a more intelligent way and make sure that the creative execution was never compromised for budgetary reasons. So, by totally focusing toward the customer, it allowed us to stay ahead of other ulterior motives or business objectives that may not be customer-concentric, which our competitors had historically utilized.

So at the end of the day, it’s all about the customer.

It really is. It’s a simple concept that may be cliché, but when you do a test against the way that you win an agency or client that works directly with EyeWonder versus any one of our other competitors, eventually we win out because the answer’s always, “OK that does actually have my best interest in mind. That is my best interest.” It’s a philosophy that is ingrained for our organization and something that we’ve helped promote.

So the lesson here is that all great businesses begin with Heineken.

I don’t know if all of them do, but this one did. (Laughs)

Well, at least in the online industry, maybe.

That could be it. The other thing, I think, is the creative flexibility. That’s what’s really separating us today. For instance, we do an ad campaign for Ameritrade. That campaign had 18 different videos in one ad. We had a total of 28 megs of digital content in an ad, which is tremendous considering file restrictions the way that they are. We were able to work from a technical level as well as an operational level with our publishing partners to get the campaign launched that had 28 megs of video. That campaign was incredibly successful. It had interaction times that were in some cases multiple minutes, like 5-6 minutes worth of viewer experience.

It’s just an awesome example of when you can take, ‘OK, here’s your creative palate, and think out of the box client, so let us go make that happen now. I haven’t seen anything close to something that compelling of an advertising experience generated from any of our competitors.”