News and Analysis: Barry at the Video On the Net Conference

March 23rd, 2007 by Barry Caplan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Earlier this week I spent a day at the VON Conference in San Jose. My original purpose in attending was to review the exhibits, to try to learn about the issues surrounding the actual network level of delivery of Digital Entertainment.

That turned out to be mostly a bust for me. 90% of the exhibitors seemed to have esoteric products and services related to VOIP space. Valuable all, I am sure :), but not what I was hoping to see.

But persistence pays off in the end, and I did find what I was looking for ….

There was a small section of the exhibit floor given over to startups in the video space, each with a table space large enough one computer monitor. As Roland Kelts mentioned in his reading later in the week, just as on Tokyo subways, if everybody turned just so, and was polite to your neighbor, then there was enough space for each cluster of people to interact without pushing the neighboring cluster away. In other words, space was tight, but unlike the moribund mood on the rest of the floor, there was a palpable excitement in the section.

I spent the latter part of the day at the Video on the Net sub-conference. One speaker after another, one demonstration after another, all addressing the issues addressed in this blog – how do you find and create innovative business models in Digital Entertainment. I wasn’t able to return the next day, but there was even a section on policy related to net development , in other words, how Washington and the public sector get their words in edgewise. This is a matter worth paying attention to.

Analysis:

Let me preface my remarks on that part of the conference by saying that any event organizers could do far far worse then hiring Shelly Palmer as a host or emcee. Quick on his feet, able to manage time and the crowd, inspirational, motivational, in depth understanding and familiarity with the subject at hand, Palmer brought an engaging New York patter to the proceedings, separating it from the usual Silicon Valley event.

Palmer was right in his remarks about the level of creativity and innovation that is occurring in the space, in new ways to create, modify, categorize and deliver content, both user-generated content (“UCG”) and longer form content, in what ABC News Digital Media SVP Bernie Gershon referred to as a “deliver anytime anywhere what the end user wants how the end user wants it when the end user wants it” strategy.

Ezra Kucharz, the Chief Operating Officer, iVillage, NBC Universal, was more succinct about NBC’s strategy, and in my eyes, he seemed kind of evasive as though he didn’t want to be there. Granted, Bernie is a tough act to follow, with his polished New York woe-is-me comic style of speaking, especially with Palmer as a straight man, but it seemed like something else was up. Kucharz took no questions, and disappeared quickly from the scene. So it was not as much of a surprise as it would have been about NBC’s announcement first thing the next morning regarding its new venture to get its info out on the net.

And a well placed source in another media giant indicated to me that that company was having a very difficult time coming up with an effective Digital Entertainment strategy.

So I am not really sure that I whole-heartedly agree with Palmer that the best thing to do is to just do anything, at least not from a business point of view. There is and needs to be continuous experimenting in technology, and business models, but professing to the masses that they just do something for the sake of doing something struck me as somewhat disingenuous.

Who benefits when the smallest, least financially secure, but mist innovative people are encouraged to, in effect, play the lottery with everything they have? The end user benefits from increasing functionality, ease of use, and so forth, but do investors and entrepreneurs benefit? How about the conglomerates and aggregators of digital media, such Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL/TimeWarner, as well as the old-line media companies, seeking desperately to remake their business models to stave off extinction?

I was left with the opinion, which was reinforced by Kelts a few nights later, that it is far from clear about whether or not the long form of entertainment (30 minutes to two hours) that we are familiar with in TV and Cinema is going to survive. Oh I guess it will survive all right, but its market share and mind share is already going down drastically.

Maybe Palmer was hinting at that – that there is market share to be grabbed, and doing so will result in wealth creation for the grabbers, no matter how it ends up. Still, I don’t think it is going to be that simple – in the long run, if viewers are getting scarcer, and the screens are getting smaller, can Disney/ABC/ESPN afford to produce original material at the costs it takes to have the production values it will always expect? Or will it focus more on live events, both live and small, for which there is a compelling reason to see it as it happens? Gershon didn’t mention ESPN, but probably ESPN-U, with its broadcasting of smaller college sports, seems to be a way to work out how to produce that material, at a lower production value, when it will ultimately be delivered to a small targeted audience on a small screen somewhere. ESPN-U is not about TV, it is about the internet.

Still, where does that leave films and TV sitcoms and dramas? I think that is anybody’s guess in a Youtube world, as early stars are starting to emerge, and develop fan bases with repeated episodes.

Maybe it is time to throw away all those screen writing text books, and consider what content will look like when viewers are no longer limited by time or space.

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