New Media Developer Rides Wave of Technology Convergence

Steven Echtman is a man who considers himself a few steps ahead of everyone else. While most companies are busy establishing an Internet presence and learning the importance that such a presence offers, Echtman’s company, Passing Lane Media, is busy paving the way for the next step in the Internet-digital media convergence.

“We want to position ourselves as the entity that can produce for convergence,” Echtman says. By “convergence” Echtman means the inevitable conglomeration of all existing forms of media-network and cable television, CD-ROM’s , the Internet, DVD, and feature films.

Echtman says Passing Lane Media, which was formed in January 1997, offers a multifaceted and holistic approach to creating and providing content for these media. He says the important thing is not looking at media as a finite item, but as an ever-evolving technology.

“Everything we produce is produced with an eye on where we can take it from here,” he says.

Whether it be a Web site, a TV commercial, a corporate identity, or a CD-ROM, Echtman says that Passing Lane Media will always try to take its development a step further. For its Web site design for example, Echtman says the company designs their clients’ Web sites with upgradeability and expandability in mind, so that it can easily add areas and add links that weren’t previously there without negatively affecting the look and feel of the site and without putting those areas in prematurely.

“A major motto of ours is that we never want to put up an ‘under construction site,’” he says. “There are way too many ‘under construction’ signs out there on the internet that are pitfalls to any Web site that uses them. It just goes against every marketing principle I know to lead viewers down a dead-end alley.”

Echtman helps his Web clients avoid such pitfalls by putting them through an extensive discussion stage before construction even begins.

The first area that is discussed is what the client wants to accomplish with the Web site. Passing Lane does this by sitting down with the client and exploring what the client wants to get from the Web site and who they are targeting demographically. Passing Lane can then analyze what different areas they will need to build into their site and how large that site should be.

“A lot of clients haven’t experienced the medium,” Echtman says. “So a lot of our customers are people who know that they need this thing called a Web site but they don’t know how to interact with a Web site and haven’t necessarily been on the Internet that often.”

In client meetings, Echtman explains to the client what the Internet is all about and what can be accomplished with the Internet. Once this is all figured out, they then begin the project, using a combination of Photoshop and Illustrator, creating the look and feel of the Web site for the client.

Passing Lane Media is currently doing Web development and design for such commercial production companies as Colibri Films, for which Echtman and his design team developed an area to spotlight Colibri’s directors. Currently, there are six directors in the area with more to be added soon.

“For Colibri Films, we produced a Web site which breaks the company down into a number of areas, one of the areas being their directors,” he says. “And we go in and we profile each of the director’s works with a montage of clips from each of their different commercials.

If Passing Lane Media is working with a client that is looking for a corporate identity, they will, in Quark and Pagemaker, create and produce everything from business cards and letterhead, to the Web site. The company can do this because it has in-house print capabilities. Echtman says the company can design for almost any medium or media production firm, including CD-ROMs.

Echtman says CD-ROMs, which Passing Lane produces for entertainment and corporate clients, are more media-rich because when you deal with Web sites, you’re dealing with a finite bandwidth.

Currently, the company is in production on several CD-ROM projects for clients, doing everything from automotive manufacturer CDs, where they are including videos of the production process for some parts. Echtman calls it more of a sales and marketing tool for the company nationwide to go into the large buyers and present the information on CD and then present them with leave-behinds, material that salespeople leave behind for clients to review at their leisure.

But Passing Lane’s clientele does more than just review what is presented to them, they also participate in deciding how their Web site corporate identity will look.

Echtman enjoys working with these kinds of clients, especially those who are new to media and the Web. He says witnessing the education process take place with his clients is very satisfying.

Another satisfying aspect of his Web work, according to Echtman, is tailoring his work to his clients’ varying bandwidth needs.

“The challenges are really in the bandwidth and the platforms that we’re delivering to,” he says. “We really painstakingly make sure that our products are deliverable across the intended media because there are so many different versions of Web browsers out there that each have different capabilities.”

As a matter of fact, one of the company’s specialties is the compression of the graphics of the work they do so they can provide very high-end integrated graphic work that is deliverable over low-bandwidth modems.

“A lot of times, the balance is providing media that is high end that works for a very low common denominator as far as bandwidth and browser versions.”

One of the clients for which Echtman and his team are providing media is Creative Light Entertainment, a community of television and movie creatives. The company is in the process of developing a flowchart and the navigational design for that company’s Web site.

Another major project is the development of the Entertech Summit Web site, an entertainment and technology expo for IDG Seminars.

In addition to entertainment interests, Echtman says that Passing Lane will also enter the online education arena by delivering online seminars to companies via their intranets. Echtman wants to cater the courses and repurpose those and put them on their intranet servers to run in-house. Passing Lane is currently working with Parallax Education and Softworks Education on these projects.

Echtman’s goal is to keep Passing Lane Media in the fast lane by staying several steps ahead of modern technology, with his prophecy of new media convergence. Echtman says evidence of his ideas of the convergence of media can be witnessed in current technology.

“Television is moving into the new digital realm. Broadcast and cable television will take another step forward into the high-definition area in about the same time it takes the Internet to step into what’s considered current broadcast TV quality,“ he says. “TV will take another step closer to feature films with the high-def formats that are coming out. It’ll take another period of about 10-20 years for the bandwidth of the internet to come up to a level where it can compete on that level.”

“I think it’s [the convergence of new media] going to ultimately really help our business because we will be able to market ourselves more effectively for those clients who see the same convergence taking place.”