More Questions than Answers: notes from the media frontier as encountered at Sydney’s iMedia Agency Summit

Sydney_convention_center_435x155
“the broadcast model isn’t broken…  yet.  how prepared are agencies for when it breaks?” was the question I wanted to put to the Q&A panel at last week’s iMedia Agency Summit in Sydney.  whilst I didn’t get the chance to ask the panel, I did get the opportunity to ask it to Rohan Lund of Yahoo!7, but more of that later.

yes, this week saw the AdTech Summit series hit Sydney, part of which was the iMedia festival which I attended along with around one hundred of my Sydney media counterparts.  all in all it was a day of more questions than answers, but that was to be expected I, well, expect.  that said, some genuine morsels emerged, which (after a bit of an absence from the blogosphere) I thought I’d share…  here then, is what happened at iMedia, at AdTech, at Sydney…

Unilever_campaigns Unilever brands that have utilised the social media space

first up, delivering the keynote welcome, was Unilever’s Babs Rangaiah (@babs26) who described how he and others are pioneering in the Social Media space at the company.  its necessary stuff in his opinion, pointing out that only 18% of TV campaigns generate positive ROI, and that 24 of the top 25 biggest newspapers are undergoing circulation decline.

Axe_wake_up

his three observations were that Unilever is (1) living the [social media] space, (2) re-framing their thinking re Social media and Applications [ie NOT pre-rolls – thats the broadcast solution applied to the online paradigm], he cited BBH’s Axe Wake Up Service app from Japan (above), and (3) rewriting its media manifesto along these lines, as would be written by customers:

  1. be part of the world – Rangaiah pointed out the gap between time spent online and advertising spend online
  2. penetrate our culture – the move from interruption to engagement; is what we create useful, entertaining or interesting?  he cited the example of the Dove for Men campaign, which after scooping up a SuperBowl spot proceeded to land its American Football-playing star a seat on Oprah’s couch
  3. give us a voice and a role – Best Job In The World anyone?
  4. be authentic – anyone unclear on this one just Google Dell Hell…
  5. listen to us
  6. create more value – “you want us to pay? … [then] we want you to pay attention”
  7. don’t be so corporate
  8. keep it simple – good one this, if you can’t explain an idea to a non-marketing friend or partner in ten seconds then its probably to complex to ever get traction
  9. telling friends – WoM is the most powerful form on advertising [Alleluia Babs, Alleluia]
  10. do good

he ended on a topic that would be the subject of some debate for the rest of the day…  how the rapid evolution on metrics in the online space has created its own rewards but also problems.  from clicks and impressions to unique users to engagement or stickiness and now ROI … measuring success has never been so possible nor so complex.

Megan_Brownlow_PHOTO next up was the lovely Megan Brownlow, Entertainment and Media Editor for PWC’s Outlook, which complies stats on ‘where the money is’ in the entertainment and media spaces…  this is facts given meaning not opinions back up with stats, so worth paying attention to, especially a key observation re consumer spending vs advertiser spending…

PWC’s five year view looks a lot like this

PWC_media_&_entertainment_forecasts_imedia_summit_2010 PWC revenue predictions as presented at iMedia Summit last week in Sydney

put simply, people are predicted to spend proportionately more on entertainment and media (content) than advertisers will spend on media.  good news if your media business model is predicated on creating and distributing stuff that people will want and pay for. bad news if your media business model is taking commission on advertising spend.  a problem further compounded by the well documented explosion in inventory, which any economist will tell you will lead to lower yields for media publishers and agencies.

Brownlow described the ‘structural change’ of this versus other recessions.  the recovery will be shallower than any previous one, “a crawl rather than a jump out”, but not for everyone.  between 2003 and 2009 search revenues have increased from 31% of ad revenues to 50.4% – 90% of which, no one needs reminding, goes to one company.

the big growth is in consumer pay models, where growth is predicted to be 5.5% CAGR (’09-’13).  hence media owners and publishers seeking hybrid business models (another hot topic of the day) to monetise content.  Brownlow noted research suggesting that, for example, in newspapers people will pay, but only for verticals – a proportion (Finance 97%, Sport 77%) of the hard copy price as long as that same content is not available for free elsewhere.  in this context Murdoch’s rallying cry to the newspaper industry to declare war on Google makes immaculate sense.  her final observation was that even if hybrid pay models work, lost revenues won’t be replaced.  the annihilation of the old model of newspaper publishing is still an inevitability.

Brownlow’s final observation however was a cold shower for any Australians readying themselves for seats of honour in the digital revolution after-show party.  compared to the rest of the world, the country is significantly lagging in online adoption, with revenues in the online space in the region of 25%, compared with 31% globally and up to 50% in countries such as south east Asia.  “traditional media ‘owns’ the market in Australia for a long time yet to come”.  the reasons, infrastructure (and therefore effectively ISP cost) and attitude…  the former understandable given the countries geography, the latter frustrating to say the least in a country with such an entrepreneurial culture (my observation not Brownlow’s).

three ‘game-changers’ to end with: (1) the NBM or National Broadcast Network, a government initiative to hardwire the nation by 2017, but which Goldman Sachs predicts will be only 50% complete by then, (2) mobile, yes 2010 IS mobile’s year and (3) interactive games, with a 7.5% growth forecast, 2.2bn market and two structural changes to boost the sector in the form of mobile and online gaming.  play on.

Ed_smith_pic next up the enigmatic Ed Smith of NDM who started with a topic that was to become one of the themes of the day…  that of volume versus value in the online space.  he made two observations – one, that (average) click rates were down from 32% to 16%; and two, that 8% of people accounted for 80% of clicks.  so just how valuable is a click?  how many brands and businesses are so overly obsessed with generating clicks that they’re “going out of business as cost effectively as possible”?  …he questioned what the point of [100%] paid-for search was when you’re not investing in product or marketing initiatives that ‘build the brand’?

this was a phrase that kept on cropping up, bit of a fat phrase (and not in a good street way)…  ultimately by ‘build the brand’ I suspect the speakers were referring to brand associations.  and raising the (valid) question of how long the broadcast interruption model can create and sustain brand associations (ie what ‘brands’ effectively are) if we’re all collectively ignoring / avoiding more, clicking less, and paying for content direct.

Smith went on to give the publishers’ perspective wrt post-broadcast print…  describing some of the emerging platforms he played with at a recent tech conference.  I was going to ask him “how he was intending to meet the challenge of defending margins when the cost of producing content is no longer matched by advertising revenues?” … but we know the answer to this, it’s the much talked about hybrid model…  of combining (lower) ad revenues with direct payment from people for the content.  the ‘iPad $ a day’ model.  Smith’s retort to those who question the sustainability of the hybrid model: “People who say ‘people won’t pay for content’ don’t know what’s possible”.  to that point, he showed us this:

he observed that the NYT’s iPad application launched with three advertisers each paying US$200k for the privilege and challenged the audience with the question “are your digital media choices making your brand bigger or smaller?”

Jack_matthews_fairfax the end of the morning saw Fairfax Digital’s CEO Jack Matthews take up some of the themes opened by Smith…  “consumer demand for media, in all it’s forms, has never been greater”, “a new era of online advertising”, “direct response get’s too big a share of the media mix”, “the future of media companies and agencies is to add value” … there’s a clear direction of travel from publishers here; away from trading debates based on the value of a click, towards trading debates predicated on the value of the audience the publisher is providing…

Matthews outlined three change catalysts in the space: (1) three screens (2) building brands on desktops and (3) agency / campaign integration

he made a delightful observation on the three screen model: “if the desktop user is a browser, then a mobile user is a hunter”.  I have a lot of time for that, it really focuses how you think about adding value to people in the mobile space.  he reiterated the belief that “people are willing to pay for content on mobile devices”, and pointed out the projected rise of video advertising on the desktop – 48% CAGR in ad revenues to 2014.  he also made it quite clear to the audience that Fairfax Digital is in the business of and focusing on “building engaged audiences more than reach”.

he ended with a call for integration, observing that “we have no aligned metric for measuring ‘brand building’ [that phrase again] online”, and that there’s not enough integration within agencies on aligning on and offline media.  he acknowledged that his organisation had to be more prepared to work with other organisations too…  an acknowledgment that he described as a “fundamental shift” in Fairfax’s position.

after post-lunch sessions by Michael Hendricks, Head of Decision Management, CitibankAsia Pacific (“we’re about acquiring the right customers, not the most”, “our most valuable customers use all of our channels most of the time”) and Corporate Anthropologist (who knew?) Michael Henderson, it was back to the media agenda with Rohan Lund of Yahoo!7…

Rohan-Lund-Yahoo7 58% of Yahoo!7’s audience media ‘mesh’ at least several times a week: 95% on email, 63% on social networks, 54% to get more info on a show and 40% to follow-up on an ad they’ve seen…  time spent online watching video is now 13%, and very much social.

Lund challenged the session – in a context of content, content content – to question what our business models were?  access isn’t enough.  “we [Yahoo!7] make it easier for users to access content that matters to them most”, adding that “our businesses are data businesses … our core business is targeting”.

he outlined Yahoo!7’s recently launched catch up service, thru which every primetime show is available.  he described how the ambition is to get the browser closer to a TV environment, and talked thru the challenges of making TV shows available for different IPTV-ready TV models.  interestingly, for non-partner TVs they’ve introduced open-source development.  and he was quite clear that he saw no reason why online video CPMs will never be lower than for TV; in effect a premium for targeting.

back to the question I asked at the start of the post, I put to Lund that “the broadcast model isn’t broken…  yet.  how prepared are agencies
for when it breaks?” … he believed that agencies are becoming more integrated, and understanding better the balance between on and offline.  but acknowledged the elephant in the room; that “no one ever got fired for buying TV”, and that people are still “hiding behind TV as a safe solution”…

good to have it out and said, and credit to Lund for doing so…  but I think its less about TV being seen as the safe solution, and more the reach and delivery of the broadcast model that’s seen as the safe solution.  the absurdness of this just gets truer every day.  if the iMedia summit made one thing clear its that the figures are now starting to track the theory.  viewing fragmenting, click rates decreasing, ad avoidance up…  and the solution?  a continued clinging to the sinking ship that is broadcast interruption.  it’s like the Titanic’s going down and the industry is scrabbling to get on board…

Sean_Finnegan_Starcom this was followed by (for me) one the highlights of the day as Sean Finnegan, President and Chief Digital Officer at Starcom MediaVest Group took us thru his vision for his media agency’s digital offering.

his logic is crystal: clients are struggling to deliver accountability in rapidly changing markets where its harder to connect with consumers.  agencies therefore need restructure and resource to provide a range of new offerings: RealTime consumer insight, actionable insights, and content – all created by what Finnegan describes as ‘liquid talent’.  how…

  • business intelligence and hub formations
  • data exchanges (in the US buying of non-identify-able consumer data is now mainstream)
  • standardised findings with consumers and the industry (common and consistent measurement)
  • instant content delivery, real time text and video (eg EA’s Tiger Woods video)
  • strategic alliances, frenemies have never been more important…

he observed that “efficient pricing is no longer a value add”, and that “marketers and agencies that focus only on price are leaving value on the table”.  we’ve gone “from a linear to a networked comms infrastructure [which] creates a transfer of power to the consumer”.  he noted that we “need to start understanding the passions and behaviours of individuals [across media platforms]”, and observed that this would have inherent problems for publishers.

he also outlined his thoughts on the media agency offering…  “because of our proximity to consumers we have to be more adept at design and messaging”, but also gave a stark warning to media isolationists: “you need to be confident enough to partner with competitors that are better than you to deliver the best solutions for your clients … the more we give away, the more we grow”.

his view on the future of the Starcom’s digital offering is clear: a move away from media people as aggregators towards media people as analysis of data, interpreting, modeling and projecting for clients and brands.  his people will be more account managerial and who are less in the business of “killing bad news” and more in the business of “selling the best ideas”.

so what to make of it all?

great day and some interesting comment and debate, but you can’t help but leave with the impression that there’s far more questions than answers.  but perhaps that’s well and good, it’s an easy cliche to say that there’s never been a more interesting time to work in media…  but its true never the less.  for more than three years this blog has set itself the task of negotiating the future of media and communications; a task is no less interesting, gripping and exciting than it was when in November 2006 I wrote my first post on TV (versus) online:

“the internet is television.  but it’s television on viewers’ rather than broadcaster’s terms.  the issue isn’t the demise of TV, but the decline of the broadcast model and of the broadcaster as commissioning editor and content aggregator.”

its vaguely how terrifying how little has changed.  the debate, the argument and the negotiation continues, and we’re all the better for forums like iMedia in which to talk, and for that matter drink, it out…

IMedia_drinks

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