Tweet DLD conference. I guess no one read my post from last year. In case you are curious, my hotel was better. . . well, better is a complicated concept. There is no weather pattern over my bed, but of course there would not be as heat rises and tends to collect in the attic - or as they call it here, room 504. It may not really be the attic. I only call it that because the elevator stops on the fourth floor and I had to exit the warm portion of the building and walk up the wooden staircase to the fifth floor to get into a room with a slanted ceiling and a dormer window. My client picked the hotel and did warn me it was not the caliber of the one I stayed in last year. But with the frostbite wound earned in my five star hotel room last year still visible on the little toe of my left foot, I figured it could not be worse. The VC's behind this startup are certainly very proud of the selection, it reinforced my belief that I am too old to be a startup. It was not until I was here that I learned the English translation of the name of the hotel's street is probably "Street where women take their clothes off and dance on tables for money" or perhaps "place where people can display their ability to make arabic signs and hang them in between sex shops." This a stark contrast from last year which looked like it was designed by the level designers from Wolfenstein.
The conference itself is great. It is very much like going to TED or EG, if half of the people spoke a different language. The interesting part is that it is not always the same part. A healthy slice of Americans are thrown in for flavor with a smattering of Indians and people from other parts of the world, the conference is predominantly German and Isreali. So at any one time, a good chunk of the people milling about during the break choose to speak either German or Hebrew. As a patriotic American, I chose to speak neither. The language differences afford a very effective brush off ability. Rather than the usual "Hey, I'll be here all three days, let's catch up later." Someone who does not want to talk to me can just give me a blank look with raised palms in an "I don't speak English" kind of way.
Fortunately, the panels remain entirely in English and most of them do not sound like an episode of Sprockets. Once again, there were big names and big ideas. There is not another place on earth where Jack Dorsey, Freeman Dyson and Yoko Ono would be on the same schedule. I am not going to go into it because you can read better coverage at sites like Wired, the WSJ, All Things D or by doing whatever it is you do with the hashtag DLD, or see it streaming by searching DLD 2012. But one panel stood out in my mind not for what was discussed, but for the elephant sitting in the room that was not discussed.
The panel was called "New Studios" and was made up of Danny Zapin of Maker Studios, Jesse Draper of The Valley Girl Show, Yoel Flan of The Shine Group
, and Mark Read of WPP. It was a mixup of old school money with new school content. Maker Studios built tens of millions of subscriptions on the web and Jesse Draper built a syndication network across the web and physical locations that reaches several million. The role of the industrialist was played by Yoel Flann who is aggregating shows and Mark Read played the role of status quo proponent. Mr. Read pointed out, quite correctly, that television is not going away. In fact the markets are growing dramatically in BRIC countries. He explained how CES was dominated by screens. Big screens, small screens, in between screens. My favorite line was in response to my question when he channeled Dr. Seuss with "in the future we will see four screens maybe more screens." What Mr. Read failed to address is how the content is going to get to the screens. Even though all those screens look the same from the front, they are very, very different from the back. They are all IP addressable. This means people who already use DVRs to allow them to care very little about which network is broadcasting a show, will soon care very little about whether there show is being broadcast by a network, cable operator or website. Great news for everybody sitting to the left of Mr. Read, but in a Darwinian way, not so good for him. According to WPP's last publicly available annual report the revenue for all of the advertising agencies within the group was right around one half the revenue of the media management group. The profit of the agency is driven by the high margin media buying business. A cynic would also point to the reduced accountability of buying a Super Bowl ad with Neilson reported numbers relative to seeing actual click through from a web campaign. Mr. Read cannot buy up inventory from the others on the stage because it is simply too expensive. The cheaper the ad buy the more expensive the dollar being spent. So what happens moving forward?
From the consumer side we know we will see one screen, and depending who you listen to, we will talk, gesture, dance or sing to find the show we want to see. From a personal perspective I can tell you my son really does not care whether the latest episode of Top Gear comes in from BBCA on our cable system or through the mac mini plugged into the television. The only thing he knows is he sees it six months sooner streaming on the web. But from a sponsor perspective things become very convoluted. Today, on buy goes into one box. If I want television I use television metrics and I buy from one party via one set of rules. Prices vary between network and basic cable (with some basic cable shows drawing more than network there is no logic, but it still works this way) but it is all basically the same. If I buy web I use a completely different set of metrics and a completely different rule set. But what will it look like when I have the choice between 1.5 million eyeballs I think are watching the Daily Show on Comedy Central at 11 p.m. and a guaranty of delivery 1.5 million eyeballs to my product in the same time period through the very same screen? Especially when the latter is significantly cheaper than the former. The decision becomes easy and the argument that "network will always be network" becomes even weaker than it is today relative to cable. The decision becomes easy and the argument that "network will always be network" becomes even weaker than it is today relative to cable. There is an old line attributed to everyone from Henry Ford to John Wannamaker that half of all advertising dollars are wasted, but we don't know which half. Well, now we do. The only question becomes "what happens to those companies who make the lion's share of their profit from selling both halves?"