There are icebreakers and then there are icebreakers. Ad Age Los Angeles bureau chief Claude Brodesser-Akner injects a little bit of ethnic humor in his introduction of the first panel. Kicking off with his rendition of his South Asian-accented cab driver on the way over, he then references being a "new Jew" and wonders whether Pepsi's Frank Cooper, who has chosen marketing despite having the qualifications for a seat on the Supreme Court, hasn't been photographed passed out with "his keys up his butt." There is a favorable ratio of comfortable-to-nervous audience laughter.
Claude continues to wow by giving me a shoutout for my story in this week's issue that calls out some of the limitations of internet advertising and asks the simple question: Why would brands advertise when they can create their own media, from communities to videos to information-laden websites? He quotes me quoting Matt Freeman on the point that Pepsi could be a media player if it wanted, and Claude asks Mr. Cooper whether he's interested in stepping on the toes of publishers. The answer: Not really ... maybe ... not yet. Mr. Cooper says he's "moving in a direction that's about a broader form of storytelling that intersects with" what old media does.
I'll be shocked if that tension between marketer and media owner isn't a recurring theme. Everyone thinks they can create content today and, in fact, everyone can. What's interesting is there's still a lot of shyness on the part of marketers in fessing up to how this affects the media owner's position in the traditional power structure.
A plug for Pete Caban
Peter Caban of Mekanism is here doing a quick pitch of his company's online work for the video game Rock Band, but I'll say this about him: He's one of the smartest guys I've ever met when it comes to the ever-vexing challenge of how to distribute online video content. I met him at Cannes last year on the steps off the terrace of the Carlton Hotel and he spoke for what had to be an hour about the under-examined problem of how to actually get all the cool stuff you can do online in front of people. He doesn't have all the answers or pretend to, but he's asking the right question.
Damon Wayans is really smart, too (and nice, I hear)
Here's Damon Wayans as panelist, in a suit and sans Fly Girls, having just launched WayOutTV.com. Which he's talking about as "In Living Color 2.0." That's a tall order, so we'll see. I haven't checked it out yet, but Mr. Wayans seems to know what he's doing. In fact, he should probably be in charge of the very popular humor website "Funny or Die."
In a panel on web talent, he brings up some good points about how to scale online talent, how to take something that's popular in corners of the internet and blow it up in other media. Citing the famous "Landlord" sketch, he says it's been a mistake not to incubate it as a TV show. He believes they should go to the TV networks and say, "I don't care what you think. Ten million people like that girl."
"The trick is to do it all. That's when you monetize."
And then he utters one of the best quotes I've ever heard, on the topic of listening to feedback on content. "You try to address everyone's comment and then you have feathered fish."
Not too far from the twittering crowd
Ad Age's digital editor, Abbey Klaassen, passed this along: "While this is no SXSW by twitter-level standards, there is some isolated twittering going on in the audience. (Yes, this is a digital conference but, unlike South By Southwest, there are clearly a lot of brand folks and general marketers in the audience and they're not necessarily as steeped in interactive as the web developers who attended the Texas event last week.) I did, however, catch up with Critical Mass's David Armano (twitter.com/armano) and Edelman's Steve Rubel (twitter.com/steverubel), both Day Two speakers, who are filing updates. My first thought? Yikes! Please don't let anything here turn out like Sarah Lacy. As you may recall, Business Week's Lacy interviewed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a SXSW session that was panned in real time by the twittering audience. So I warned them: Be nice, or people will pay you back with snarky Twitter posts while you're on stage. No they won't, they replied, confidently -- because everyone who twitters will be on stage. Damn. So true."
If you're looking for the answer to online video advertising...
... keep looking. This slice of internet advertising is still something of a toddler -- growing fast and screaming for attention -- so maybe it only makes sense that no one's claiming to have all the answers when it comes to things like formats and measurement for video. A panel of thinkers from ESPN, Hulu and Heavy.com and media agencies MediaVest and Carat were all asked whether various formats like pre-roll and overlays were "hot or not." The overwhelming answer was, if I can be a bit reductive, it depends. It depends on whether a particular format in a particular execution is annoying the consumer. So, it depends whether it's working. Or, better yet, it depends on whether it's not not working. Either way, we're a long way from strict definitions of knowledge here.
The funny thing is I can't decide whether I should be bothered by this. After all, the beauty of the internet is that it's highly customizable; that, unlike network TV, essentially a slave to pods full of 30-second spots, you can experiment; and that, in theory, what works for Heavy doesn't have to work for ESPN. There doesn't have to be a hegemonic standard like the TV commercial, even if everyone seems to want one.
Bad news for portals? In a panel on content distribution, an audience poll reveals that only 7% of those in attendance have plans to lock down big content deals with portals or TV networks a la the old upfront TV model. Then, asked by moderator Mike Vorhaus, the audience pretty much registers that Yahoo's gotten less important over the past year and the portal's importance will continue to diminish in the coming year. This obviously non-scientific study is balanced a bit by Group M's Rob Norman, who said that about 30 of the media-buying giant's largest buyers have those sort of deals in place. Of course, those are big advertisers for whom scale is very important.
Another theme is shaping up, the battle of mass vs. niche, which may or may not net out with something like "niche with scale." There's been more than a little evidence throughout the day that the short tail of media -- dominated by a handful of portals and social networks -- is actually lengthening. Speaking of size, Mr. Norman came in with the quip of the day when, in a discussion of how long ad formats should be online, he dryly said: "I've never had a question of length."
Time for cocktails.