May 21, 2009, NYC – Bluewolf, a SaaS-oriented consultancy with a specialty in helping media companies, hosted an event at the Bryant Park Screening Room yesterday evening. With no free WiFi or 3G penetration in the room, the two-hour session held the attention of its audience, which consisted mostly of media company IT and business executives who were clients of Bluewolf.
The first half of the event was given over to Clay Shirky, who presented his characteristic big-picture assessment of historic sea-change in the nature of media. While the key messages, consistent with Bluewolf’s credo, were innovate, iterate, and be prepared to fail, the talk also had the effect of shining a spotlight on the elephant in the room of every Big Media gathering of late: once again, the Internet is messing with their business, intellectuals like Clay insist the changes are permanent and irreversible, and no one knows where this disruption will eventually lead for professional content.
With the crowd thus stirred, vendors took the stage to talk about how cloud computing could help. Representatives from Salesforce.com, Google Apps, and Zuora presented some compelling cases to illustrate how cloud computing not only cuts IT costs but can also create the right environment for rapid low-cost innovation and experimentation. It seemed as though Bluewolf may have gotten things back on message.
But then came the industry representatives: Dave Fox, VP, Commercial Services for Time Warner Cable, Mike Stoeckel, who had recently left his post as VP, Digital Products at Fox to join a media ad-ops platform start-up called Invision, Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, VP Marketing for The Buffalo News, and Daniel Hart, whose title, “formerly of MTV,” seemed to hint at some discord to follow.
Note to event organizers: be careful with panelists who no longer work for companies in the industry you’re targeting, especially if it’s media. Stoeckel laid into the media industry for its complacency following the Internet bubble which he pointed to as the main reason Google and ad networks have marginalized them online despite being initially inept at ad sales. Gallagher-Cohen, as the token newspaper representative, did not try to hide the stress and frustration surrounding her business, although she did claim that her paper’s innovative strategies were paying off as they were seeing CPMs rise (mostly due to the paper’s introduction of behavioral targeting) even as industry-wide rates were falling sharply. Hart, surprised to hear of rising rates in Buffalo, spoke wistfully of some of the great social gaming work MTV had done online with its sort-of-hit TV show The Hills, and suggested that someday media might understand how to monetize the passion of its fans, but today agencies and networks were still mostly locked in the outdated mass-media mindset of valuing reach far above audience dedication.
Things came to a head when Clay Shirky fielded a question about what kinds of business models he believed could sustain content production businesses in the future, given his points about the publishing’s catastrophic loss of scarcity. He pointed to examples like Cook’s Illustrated and Consumer Reports, which he described as successful “because consumers pay them not to take advertising.” The audience flushed.
Afterwards, blue margaritas were served al fresco on the roof of the Bryant Park Grill under a warm, clear spring sky.