09/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Online Publishers Association: Still Driving with its Foot on the Brake

The Online Publishers Association (OPA), the trade association representing the digital interests of mostly offline media companies, opted to set fire to the forest floor last week with the release of a study on brand advertising metrics that, by the time they finished, scorched the effectiveness of the entire Internet as a brand medium save for its 50, or so, members who served as the "proxy for content sites" in the study. That means all the other non-proxy content sites served by ad networks or sales representatives, plus portals -- or, basically, the remainder of the Internet -- were voted off the island by the report.

There are 400,000 words in the English language and there are seven you can't say on television. What a ratio that is, the great George Carlin once observed. Add to it, now, that there are 10 billion Web sites on the Internet and only 50 on which you can advertise your brand successfully.

They must be reeeally goood.

Unfortunately, this is a problem for anyone rooting for the Internet to get to $50 billion, which many people seem to be doing. If brand advertisers can only hope to be successful on OPA Web sites, the $50 billion means that a) they will pay through the nose for advertising on the reeeally goood sites, and b) the rest of the Internet will be awash in so much fakevertising it will be like spilled oil on the beach. (Which Yahoo! already thinks is like spilled oil on the beach and is trying to clean up on its sites. Which is not what needs to happen if CPMS go to $250 on OPA sites and you need enough room for an environmental disaster to support the rest of the economy.)

This is what lashing out looks like. The OPA didn't release a study; the OPA lashed out at the industry, which it feels conspires every day to wreck the value propositions of its members who are important, dedicated, hard-working, First Amendment freedom fighters that are sick and tired of being trampled by midgets. Honestly, I think they are just that frustrated. Every day it's attack of the killer ants. Every day it's a nightmare of compromises and conditions and unwelcome intrusions:

"Another Ad Network to see you, Sir."

"The local residents have asked if they may hunt on the grounds tomorrow, Sir."

"The gentleman in the portal next door has asked if he might borrow some Grey Poupon."

No one is confused about the OPA's mission: countless years and considerable wealth and innovation went into building the global media franchises that the OPA mostly represents, and keeping them secure amidst the torrent of new media brought on by the Internet is an important and worthwhile assignment. They should be beacons. But we must live in the real world and the real world online isn't confined to a city block. It isn't a gated community. It just isn't. Look up.

The OPA should be the representative for all quality content online, including content touched by ad networks and rep firms. It needs to get over the "branded" content thing and identify with millions of consumers online that have abiding relationships (some might call these brand relationships) with plenty of sites the OPA has never heard of. The IAB is wisely reaching-out at a critical time to long tail, independent publishers. The OPA should be ahead of it. The OPA, informed by the centuries-old mission of its founders -- themselves small, independent media pioneers -- should be the principal steward of online content and quality and a fierce advocate for publishers, big and small, that work hard to create meaningful destinations for consumers. The OPA should be filled with empathy, not petty rivalry.

If so, the OPA's study yesterday might have offered cover to brand advertisers desiring to allocate more money online in response to all the signs that proclaim that's where the people are! Instead, the OPA said "No. Mine," and helped keep the brand advertising promise of the Internet down. In the process, for the day at least, the shift of brand dollars regarded as essential to the future of the industry was postponed. Again.