Media & Entertainment: From Games To Ads, Self-Service Works

Companies give customers what they want with more do-it-yourself options

Tony Kontzer, Contributor

September 17, 2004

4 Min Read

Media and entertainment companies have discovered the joys of self-service, and across the board they're looking to let customers build, review, and collaborate on everything from video-game features to advertising campaigns. If one didn't know better, it would seem these companies are turning into software makers, but without ever losing sight of their core competencies.

At Advo Inc., the billion-dollar-a-year marketing-services firm best known for its Shopwise and Missing Child programs, that means giving customers access to an extranet that's equipped with the tools they need to create their own mailings and to proofread work before it's printed. Franchisees can log on and, working from standards established by their parent companies, access a gallery from which they can pull a variety of approved advertising elements that can be used to build localized ads that conform to those corporate standards. Franchisees can then monitor the promotions' progress through the production process, receiving notes from Advo staff, providing critiques, or signing off on proofs, all from within the extranet.

In the next year, Advo plans to make it possible for a small number of high-end clients, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc., to create their own geographic distribution profiles to help them more efficiently aim the right types of ads at specific regions at appropriate times of year, down to individual ZIP codes. In the case of Wal-Mart, for example, a geographic distribution profile would make it possible for the retailer to target a promotional mailing in November for, say, skateboards to Southern California beachfront areas.

Advo will let franchises target localized mailings based on factors such as demographics or lifestyles, CIO Dan Sheehan says. Also on tap: integrating Advo's self-service environment with an Oracle order-management system so customers can place and pay for orders online as they build them and begin tracking them in real time, rather than processing and tracking paper invoices.

Meanwhile, video-game maker Electronic Arts Inc. uses a combination of cheap, powerful Linux-based Intel servers and a Web-services architecture to let online gamers grab virtual clothes, accessories, and pets from libraries filled with thousands of objects, which can then be customized and redistributed for reuse by the rest of the gaming community. So someone playing The Sims Online can build their own characters and then make those character templates available to other Sims players. With more than 40% annual growth in demand for Electronic Arts' online games, CIO Marc West says more is on the way. "Self-service in our games is what we're trying to drive and extend," he says. "Our customer base absolutely loves being able to tinker."

INDUSTRY LEADERS Company Revenue in millions Income (loss)
in millions Walt Disney Co. $27,061 $1,267 Harrah's Entertainment Inc. $4,323 $293 New York Times Co. $3,227 $303 Knight-Ridder Inc. $2,946 $296 Electronic Arts Inc. $2,482 $317 AMC Entertainment Inc. $1,792 ($20) Dow Jones & Co. Inc. $1,546 $171 Advo Inc. $1,163 $50 Quad/Graphics Inc. -- -- R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. -- -- Financial data is from public sources and company supplied.
Revenue is for latest fiscal year.
Dashes indicate companies requesting financial information not be disclosed.

SNAPSHOT INSIDE COMPANIES Average portion of revenue spent on IT 3% Companies using radio-frequency identification -- Companies globally sourcing products and supplies 50% HOW COMPANIES DIVIDE THEIR I.T. BUDGETS Hardware purchases 13% IT Services or outsourcing 15% Research and development 2% Salaries and benefits 28% Applications 21% Everything else 21% INDUSTRY FINANCIALS Average year-over-year revenue change 6% Average year-over-year net income change 5% DATA: INFORMATIONWEEK RESEARCH
See year-over-year shifts in business-technology practices for this industry.
Compare and contrast this year's data with last year's.

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