Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Start

The start. A natural place to begin. This could mean my first post to this blog, however I had something else in mind.

A peek at where and when I started working online. Indulge me for a few minutes, I think you'll be amused and maybe, hopefully, learn something.

Yea, yea, sounds all too familiar. Create a blog and be very self indulgent. But isn't that the idea of a personal blog?

Now, where was I? Ahh yes.

Since I have been doing this a long time, I thought I'd share some of my experiences.

Perhaps after you get a taste of my background, you may be mildly entertained by the fact that I was there very early on. That the work that myself and several of my colleagues did back in the early to mid '90s has created the foundation of what is being done today.

Back to the start.

The year, 1993.
Or was it 1994?

Either way it was pretty darn early in Web years, and I worked as Program Manager for PRISM / SportsChannel Regional Networks in Philadelphia, PA.

This is where it happened.
Where I caught the bug.

I was set. I was on a career path to be a TV producer. Working in Philadelphia, at a regional sports and movie network allowed me to try my hand at many areas of television production and programming. Program management and acquisition, writing, producing, editing, shooting camera - both news gathering and live Phillies, Flyers, and Sixers games as well as concert events.

Cool. Very cool.

But it was this new thing called the Internet that had me really intrigued. The idea of being first at something, especially in the what was then the stodgy world of television, made it seem even more interesting.

There were a number of opportunities brewing there to bring our networks online. Local Philly upstart called LibertyNet came knocking. Another was that our regional networks were all going to launch a Web site - and the third opportunity was with this new company called America Online, which had recently launched their Digital City Networks property in markets such as Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Hampton Roads, VA and were coming to Philly in search of a sports media partner. After careful deliberation, we decided to do all three and explore the potential that each had to offer.

LibertyNet, which was, as I recall, a project out of the University of Pennsylvania, was going to publish articles and programming schedules for the channels.

Our corporate initiative, working to launch, was more of the same but would be promoted nationally across all the networks and would also tout programming schedules, articles from on-air talent and other background info to connect our viewers to our channels.

And then there was AOL. With I think around 5MM subscribers at the time, it was the one that seemed to have the most potential. This partnership seemed ripe with opportunity due to the built-in eyeballs as well as folks were already starting to make AOL part of their lives and the concept of e-mail, chat, and message boards were catching on. (The screen shot here is from Digital City Atlanta - which is all I could find - oh, and check out those kickin' ad banners)

As we launched each of these initiatives, there was a team of us that internally worked through the old-school media factions to convince them this was "the next thing." I remember sitting with our promotions manager at the time and talking with him about putting our URL on the end of our tune-in ads. He looked at me, and said (after asking what a URL was), "You want me to send people to their computer - away from the TV?!" I would later learn that this was a common reaction at TV networks across the country. My reply, by the way, was that when we got them to their computer, and they explored our online offerings, we promised to send them back to the TV more engaged (or at least informed) with our networks, and perhaps give our viewers more reason to feel connected to us.

It was at PRISM too, where we dabbled in some of the earliest interactive TV experiments. At the end of the our Flyers and Sixers telecasts, we named our "PRISMLink" player of the game from an online tally of viewers that e-mailed our AOL account - which we had logged in from our production truck, counting votes by hand. We also had various nights during Phillies games where we hosted "E-mail the Announcers." Our live on-air talent would answer questions between pitches and innings from our viewers at home. Sounds awfully familiar today doesn't it?

Finally, the best early story of them all.

We brought in our partners from AOL to have an ad sales discussion with the head of our sales team. They pitched the idea, that since we were building various interactive experiences, that perhaps they could, gulp, sell it advertisers. The discussion was met with much skepticism and that no one would ever pay for ads on the Internet. Heh!

Our head of ad sales remains in contact with me today and has gone on to build a very successful media planning and buying company in Philadelphia.

The point of this post is that everything new begins with a start. That with great challenge comes great opportunity. Words I live by everyday as I have built a career on being first in a number areas of building interactive experiences and charting a course in new areas of business.

This blog will attempt to document the good 'ol days leading up to what I do now. We'll explore the past learnings and future trends - not as a point of self promotion - but more as words of inspiration.

My reward for this?

For you to encourage your organizations to do new things and continue to create new and different ways to engage with customers.

Do you have a similar story? Please make sure to make a comment!

'Til next time!


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