I'm in NYC this week, attending the 2005 Media Summit. It's an annual event -- well, as of last year -- and it draws about 500 of the media industry's top execs (and all the people who want to hear what they have to say). The brochure describes it as "the international conference on motion pictures, television, cable & satellite, broadband, wireless, publishing & radio, print media, news media, advertising and marketing" -- in other words, something for everybody.
A group of my colleagues and I spent a couple hours in a roundtable discussion of how the academy can do a better job preparing students to work in this convergence-crazy, fast-changing professional environment. I came away from that discussion, and from today's sessions, convinced that:
1. Content is king, or queen, or whatever term you use to describe the most important, valuable asset in the industry. It's what really matters, it's the constant, it's the thread that connects every discussion and every technology. The media platforms are going to change faster than we can say "mobile delivery," but the more channels we have to fill, the more content we're going to need. And the more noise and competition in the marketplace of (media) ideas, the more demand there will be for the most creative, most innovative, most compelling....
2. Mobile delivery is the next big thing when it comes to technology and applications...only there's not much 'next' about it. It's happening now. Content production for mobile delivery -- just the content, not the platform -- hit $8 billion worldwide in 2004; that's expected to jump to $35 billion by 2008. There's big money to be made, and every major media corporation (and a lot of small ones) are getting in line to reap the benefits.
There was consensus that, by next summer, we'll have handhelds that will deliver everything from television to music to images. In fact, those are the big three most folks predict will be the moneymakers; only one CEO in all of the panel discussions remembered to mention voice as one of the cell phone's important apps. One skeptical audience member asked a panel of CEOs working in mobile delivery why anybody would want to watch a television program on their cell phone. He laughed. "Take a look at Korea," he said. He also pointed out that current cell phones aren't configured to handle television, that by summer 2005 the new models will have larger screens (think Blackberry and Treo) that have the same quality resolution as cable television delivers.
One point made repeatedly today: What are the three things you never leave home without? Your money, your ID, and your cellphone. Before you know it, the first two will be stored on the last one.
3. The target demographic for most of these technologies is the Internet generation, the kids who grew up using the Web. They're multi-taskers, they expect to get their information and entertainment when and how they want it, and they have very little brand allegiance: they'll adopt the best product without a second thought about the one they've been using. What works, sells.
4. Content integration is the next big thing in advertising. That means product placement (think Reese's Pieces in ET), but it also means programming that is entirely driven by the advertiser. Last summer's ABC hit, The Days, was the result of a pitch by advertisers (Mindshare, Unilever and Sears) to the network: They'd pay to put a new series in production if ABC would agree to product placement and branding for the sponsors. It's a win-win situation for both sides, according to the panelists. (To hear them talk, you'd think this was something new -- instead of standard practice during television's earliest days....)
When somebody in the audience raised the question of ethics -- is there any concern about such a close association between advertisers and content, especially given that audiences are clueless about the agreement? -- the panelists dismissed it. "I just don't see that as an issue," said one. Hmmmm.....