Next Digital Darling Will Bear No Likeness to MySpace, YouTube

AdTech's Soothsayers Contend Big Payoff Will Come for Ad Networks and Others Who Ride the Long Tail

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- What's the next big thing? Does one exist? Those were the questions simmering inside San Francisco's Moscone Center as people flocked to AdTech's best-attended event, wondering what will be 2007's YouTube or MySpace.
Dot-com redux? Cirque du Soleil performances at AdTech reminded some of the lavish days of the late '90s.
Dot-com redux? Cirque du Soleil performances at AdTech reminded some of the lavish days of the late '90s. Credit: Mikael Libert

Despite the fact few predicted the success of either business, future-casting came up on nearly every panel and privately over drinks, as the optimism of a booming internet economy had people looking forward rather than back at missed opportunities and post-boom mistakes. And there was no consensus.

The next five years, said aQuantive CEO Brian McAndrews, will see a trend in which all media become digital. "The internet is the beginning, but it is still one channel," he said. He suggested the website already had become a marketer's new 30-second spot and that, more and more, other media would be responsible for driving people to those sites.

Un-sexy innovation
There were several suggestions that the next big thing wouldn't be as sexy as recent social-networking successes. "MySpace and YouTube -- that is not where the money is being made online today," said Bob Davis, founder of Lycos and global managing partner at Highland Capital. "It's the ad networks and groups monetizing the Long Tail who are the ones making money. ... You walk through the show floor, and you look at how many companies are making a run of it with innovative models. Most of the folks won't be here two years from now, but there'll be some superstars."
Bob Moore, chief creative officer at Publicis USA
Bob Moore, chief creative officer at Publicis USA

Jonathan Nelson, who co-founded Organic in 1993 and currently heads digital strategy for Omnicom, said the next big move may have more to do with what online infrastructure allows. "We think broadband is 1.5 megabits per second with DSL," he said. "In Japan 95% of the population is 20 megabits per second. That's more data than is coming off a DVD player. ... It's very revolutionary and changes how you relate to media and how advertisers tailgate on top of that. That's going to enable the next big thing."
A few more AdTech themes:

Digital talent dearth is alive and well: Whether it was agency creatives agonizing over post-conference dinners about the lack of interactive talent coming out of traditional ad schools or panelists lamenting how that dearth is driving up the cost of hiring, it's obvious more people with digital skills are needed. Bob Moore, chief creative officer at Publicis USA, said the agency doesn't hire people without digital in their portfolio, the hoped-for net effect being not two classes of creative but one. The challenge is getting people to think about it as a blank slate, he said, and "the irony that creative people are the slowest to recognize this is grating on me. Terribly."

No second internet bubble: The reality, said aQuantive's Mr. McAndrews, is many of the companies that are firmly rooted in this industry are profitable and marketers are going digital as "a strategic, thoughtful decision, not a knee-jerk reaction." Still, it's hard to ignore the warning signs. Blogger Jamie Riddell of U.K. digital shop Cheeze said, "The Wi-Fi Sponsor is an M&A company and there are two performances from Cirque du Soleil tonight. Dot-com fever is back in business."

Biggest marketer challenge: too many choices: "I see a lot of vendors in the marketplace and it seems extraordinarily fragmented and, yet, to be contradictory, extraordinarily redundant," said Andrew Markowitz, director-digital marketing and media, Kraft Foods. Coca-Cola Co. Interactive Brand Manager Mel Clements has his own method for dealing with vendor inundation: "I don't answer my phone." Of course, the level of sympathy depended on who was speaking. Omar Hamoui, president-CEO, AdMob, said after a mobile-marketing discussion that large marketers such as Kraft face those problems because they want to do business only with established firms: "They are brand sensitive and only want to be associated with USA Today."

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Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo
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