#MediaPost Future of Media Conference Trip Report
Today I attended Media Magazine's / MediaPost.com's "Future Of Media" conference in NYC. NYU hosted the event at its Kimmel Center overlooking Washington Square; after lots of recent events in midtown it was nice to be in the Village for a change, especially on a sunny early-fall day. To the fortunate folks living in the condo one block south: admiring your rooftop garden and the sweet library below made for a great conversation starter at breakfast!
Ken Fadner, Joe Mandese, and the MediaPost team assembled a great panel. Josh Quittner framed his kickoff question with what seems to be the Ur-point of departure for all recent conferences: Apple's latest announcements. "Is the future simply "three screens" -- small / smartphone, mid-sized / tablet & PC, large / TV?" Very quickly, the responses tumbled out. "Yes! And more: wearables! Thermostats! Location-based marketing (plus ça change...)! Voice! Device-based payments! (Biometric access to our devices, for greater security!) More fragmentation..."
Someone -- I think it was David Verklin -- replied that the answer is to "follow the consumer". At first it seemed like a bland answer. But of course it's really the only way you can get a grip on where things are going: think users and use cases. Which users, and which of their macro life events and the micro use cases that go along with those, represent the biggest pots of potential value to act as muses for media innovators? Someone else -- Bob Carrigan? -- suggested that in shaping experiences to address those users and use cases, "convenience trumps quality." Echoing William Gibson's iconic "The future's already here, it's just not evenly distributed," Maria Luisa Francoli noted that, for example, we're already seeing mobile devices used as a vehicle for payments in Africa. Riffing on that theme, Beth Comstock predicted that we'd see lots more investment in user experience over raw features in the coming two years.
Now, the role of the media in shaping what's possible seems even more significant today than 47 years ago. So Josh naturally segued to ask about what firms would dominate the landscape in the coming years: "Certainly Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook -- but who else?" On the one hand, the panel had no specific, answers: no candidate from the MSM world, no mention of Microsoft (stunning, since we still spend so much time with their software), no golden child(ren) from the Web's Third Wave (though Groupon and Zynga did get shout-outs at different points later in the conversation). On the other, their comments together pointed out that Josh's Big Four all aspired to be platforms that allow others -- ten million, by Bob Pittman's counting I think -- to transform features into experiences that solve for the users and use cases mentioned earlier. One question left unaddressed is how much of the "profit pool" in this vision of media futures goes to the API builders versus the API users. From my perspective, it looks like "the stack" metaphor for software strategy now generalizes well to media too.
In the spirit of "You manage what you measure," one of the audience questions had to do with the metrics that will guide our progress toward media's future. There's consensus, as voiced by Brian Monahan, that The Age of Sampling is passing, and The Age of Big Data is upon us. David Verklin told a good story (even if it sounded slightly apocryphal, and his math seemed slightly off): "CNBC ratings recently went down 15%. Why? Two guys turned 55. What could that possibly mean?? Well, the CNBC ratings panel tracks men 25-54 with certain other characteristics. The panel had 32 people. Two of those guys turned 55..." Swimming briefly against the tide, Bob Pittman counselled "Some of this metrics stuff goes the wrong direction, you gotta help clients think like marketers. When I ran Six Flags, I told my park managers, 'You have unlimited marketing budgets -- just give me a return.'" Maria Luisa Francoli disagreed, pointing to attribution analysis as the way forward. Pittman replied, "True, but that tends to drive you to direct marketing, " She naturally countered, pointing out attribution analysis' whole premise is to put brand and direct investments on a common currency. (For me, it's not whether you pursue greater accountability, but how...)
Josh: "Is social networking a fad?" Consensus answer: the genie's out of the bottle, the challenge is that social media is "broad but not very deep" in terms of how relationships are conducted and maintained there. David to Josh: "How many 'friends' do you really have?" For me, behind this question, crucial to media firms and advertisers trying to capitalize on viral dynamics, is the question of how each of us "filter" the digital world, and of better filters as a worthy avenue toward media futures (the subject of the post I contributed to the conference blog).
What did I miss? What's your synthesis? Again, thanks for a great session.