Here’s a candidate for the most absurd statement ever to appear on the World Wide Web: ”Be patient, the animal sounds may be delayed after the animal is petted.” That caveat actually appears in the Wading Pool section of Sony’s ambitious new website, THE STATION (www.station.sony.com), where the vast entertainment conglomerate with holdings in TV, movies, music, games — and, for all anyone knows, uranium 238 — invites tykes to click the mouse on a big-eyed cow and hear it go moo. Trouble is, the cow doesn’t go moo right away; it takes 10 seconds or so for the audio file to download, by which time the kid’s likely to have yanked the mouse out of its socket.
Web-savvy adults too want their virtual cows to go moo. The fact is, sitting around and waiting has become a big part of the Web experience, and Sony’s promotion-oriented site — which features interactive versions of Sony-owned quiz shows Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, audio samples of Sony Music artists Korn and Ozzy Osbourne, and virtual communities devoted to the, yep, Sony-owned soaps Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless — requires more patience than most. The site is so weighed down with gimmicky, bandwidth-choking applications like Java and Shockwave that you’d almost think the point was to drive people away from their PCs and into the nearest Sony theater.
Of course, what Sony is after, as with any corporate megasite sponsor, is to boost consumer awareness of the company and its wares, and if customers are amused by The Station in the process, well, that can’t hurt. As part of the marketing push, site visitors must register basic personal information — age, sex, birth date, etc. — to obtain a virtual StationPass (which grants full access to certain areas); also, daily prize giveaways encourage repeat traffic.
Worse, Sony (as trumpeted in its press info) apparently intends to integrate advertising directly into the Station‘s contents — a dicey marketing trick that’s been disallowed on broadcast TV by the pesky Federal Communications Commission.
So let’s say you’ve logged on, volunteered your zip code, and expressed interest to the webmasters in all things Sony. What do you get for your trouble? Well, I don’t know what it says about Sony’s priorities — since one does not ordinarily think of soap watchers as being big Web surfers — but the most impressive areas of The Station transport fans to the virtual towns of Salem and Genoa City. Here, fans of Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless, respectively, will find updates on their favorite characters, take a tour of the local real estate, and swap gossip in chat rooms. Also promising is Siren, a mini-site crammed with Sony artists’ music clips and interviews, as well as high-tech games, even though the area seems designed to keep folks plunking down big bucks in stores for Sony CDs.
What visitors to The Station will find most entertaining — and easiest to master — are the interactive quiz shows. Such is the level of sophistication of the Web that Wheel of Fortune, arguably the dumbest show on TV, makes for an involving online experience (you even get to spin a virtual wheel, though there’s no Virtual Vanna), while maybe the smartest show on TV, Jeopardy!, suffers from an unavoidable but disappointing multiple-choice format that enables the most obtuse troglodyte to hazard random guesses. Now, if they can only figure out a way to download Alex Trebek … B