"Still govern thou my song ... and fit audience find, though few," wrote Milton in Paradise Lost.

The poet obviously foresaw yesterday's IAB Engage 2005 hypefest at London's Radisson SAS hotel where the sellout audience was certainly "fit" - if not "few".

And, remaining faithful to Milton's words, the Internet Advertising Bureau ensured that its "song" was well and truly "governed", recruiting such revered profits [oops, Freudian slip!] prophets as Bill Gates and Sir Martin Sorrell to sing from the Online Hymnal.

Quoth the former: "The future of advertising is the internet." While the latter assured the assembled acolytes: "It's happening now."

Gates, however, admitted there are still question marks over the feasibility of building big brands on the web: "That is the thing that traditional advertising is better at," he conceded. "But as it moves to the digital realm it will be hard to talk about what is and isn't internet advertising."

He cited the role of television, which will become far more personalised. News bulletins, for example, would deliver stories about the sports and political issues of interest to individual viewers, whereas items of no interest would be excluded.

Advertising too would be precisely targeted via high definition internet feeds. Over fifty per cent of advertising will become personalised, Gates believes. But privacy issues could intrude on this advertising dream, he warned.

WPP Group ceo Sorrell was also in Cassandra mode, telling the assembled adfolk they are failing to understand the scope and scale of the changes ocurring in the digital age.

The Sorrell finger wagged in the direction of those who currently helm the major media and advertising groups, mainly in their 50s and 60s. The inbred human resistance to change is also a factor.

To emphasise the pace of change, Sorrell cited the Chinese version of Pop Idol [aka American Idol] during the final episode of which 800 million votes were cast by mobile phone - despite the fact that the People's Paradise boasts 'only' 400m mobile phone handsets.

But Sorrell sees people, not technology or capital, as the major obstacle to attaining this online Nirvana: "The critical deficiency we will have to face is the supply of good people," he said.

Data sourced from BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff