Wanted: tempting content to get consumers on broadband

The advent of broadband Internet access was meant to lift the technology industry out of the doldrums and bolster demand for...

The advent of broadband Internet access was meant to lift the technology industry out of the doldrums and bolster demand for faster services. But although the industry is seeing reductions in the wholesale connection prices, the reality is that adoption is still slow. How can industry prevent broadband becoming a white elephant?

The content publishers, who complained about the slow roll-out of broadband, have yet to identify innovative ways of appealing to those consumers remaining on "narrowband" to tempt them to switch.

There are a few exceptions: one is MSN Carview, which is providing video news from US auto shows to a European audience. Consumers are increasingly using the Web to make their car buying decisions; a rich news service that provides content not otherwise available is a logical companion.

The narrowband Internet is mainly being used for traditional activities. Adoption is increasingly apparent in particular areas, especially transaction-based use. According to a recent survey by ICM Research, of those people with Internet access, shopping was the most popular online activity (34%), while 23% made travel bookings online. This is encouraging, but merely scratches the surface of the services that are available.

The potential shift we are asking people to make in moving from narrowband to broadband is not unlike the jump from traditionally scheduled broadcasting on TV to interactive television and "time shift TV" technology.

The traditional argument for not offering such rich media was the inability of networks to cope. Now the infrastructure is catching up; core networks are faster; content delivery techniques bypass Internet congestion, and broadband technology is being rolled out ahead of demand.

If broadband is to be a success, content publishers must actively invest and engage in "need creation" by asking the right questions. What can the businesses investing in this area offer to consumers that they can't get elsewhere? What can a faster connection offer to the man on the street?

Once this "x" factor is found, it must be packaged and promoted. Looking at options developed to date, the most fertile areas will be entertainment/leisure and sports industries. Broadband can enable guaranteed private webcam viewings during big games or untelevised events. Look at the popularity and intimacy that Reality TV provided.

One company taking advantage of broadband is Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment, which has secured a following among early broadband audiences to deliver broadband content. It recently launched Screenblast.com, which is a broadband creativity platform that lets users experience original entertainment; create, edit and publish music and video; and share their work with others around the world. Previews are available to 28kbps and 56kbps dial up.

Evolution of the Internet model from "push" to market "pull" is needed to drive consumers to adopt broadband as the next big thing. Businesses need to be more proactive in playing their hand and raising the profile of broadband Internet and what it means to their customers. And the opportunity extends beyond big brand companies.

The business community needs to innovate and propel new benefits outward. Their motivation in baiting the broadband Internet hook will come from the opportunity to leverage and widen revenue streams, such as pay per view and content subscription services.

The holy grail of widespread broadband adoption is still some way off. Waiting patiently in the wings until this happens is not an option. Methods exist to supply the 56kbps brigade with quality transaction services on the Net. Those companies that take stop-gap measures now will have a loyal broadband audience in place for when the technology finally makes it.

Luk Vanderbrande is regional director for Europe at Cable & Wireless Internet Services

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