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Sneak Peek at next week's ad:tech San Francisco-my chat with Drew Ianni

Posted by Brad Berens on April 13th, 2009 at 12:00 am

Next week brings ad:tech back to San Francisco for another exciting conference and expo. I'm pleased to be returning to the big show and traded notes with ad:tech Content Chair Drew Ianni about what we can all look forward to seeing at Moscone Center.

Brad Berens: Let's start at the start: you have Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales opening the show. That's fantastic. He's a true internet visionary and has created in Wikipedia one of the most-trafficked sites and most enduring online brands that has nearly killed another enduring brand: the Encyclopedia Britannica. On the other hand, Wikipedia has struggled to stay afloat because it won't accept advertising and relies on donations to keep going. What's Mr. Wales going to talk about? And does it have much to do with the Mahalo-like Wikianswers that launched last month?

Drew Ianni: In addition to Jimmy Wales, we also just confirmed that Jason Kilar, the CEO of Hulu, will be keynoting ad:tech as well. This is very exciting and what I was hoping for-- as the whole idea of disruption couldn't be more timely and relevant. With Jason and Jimmy, we have two different kinds of disruptors. I expect Jimmy to talk a bit about the story behind the founding of Wikipedia which, as he points out, was launched during difficult economic times: he sees many parallels between the last internet recession and today. Jason Kilar's disruption story is equally as interesting, as he is being paid by two big media companies (Fox and NBC Universal) to create a platform and a business that ultimately disrupts the traditional television business model. I will certainly be curious to hear Jason's point-of-view on what the overall impact will be on the network television business as Hulu and other online video sites become more successful.
 
Berens: The keyword in your first answer seems to be "disruption." Is it fair to say that disruption is a key theme for this year's ad:tech San Francisco?  If so, what's your long-elevator-ride definition of disruption when it comes to our industry?

Ianni: I suppose some may define disruption as something that alters that status quo, the establishment, or conventional wisdom. However, in the world of digital media and advertising, disruption must also include true innovation and the offer of a superior solution. Disruption for disruption's sake is of no value to a media company, advertiser, or consumer who is looking for a more efficient and effective way of executing a task.
 
Berens: It's interesting that you talk about Hulu as disrupting the traditional television business model because when the rumors about Hulu first starting leaking the buzz was all about Hulu as a defensive maneuver against YouTube and other online video portals that were putting NBC and Fox premium content online and not compensating the media companies. Without asking you to pretend to read Mr. Kilar's mind, where do you, Drew, think the main focus of big media companies ought to be when it comes to internet video: looking at where audience behavior is already migrating (most strikingly, YouTube) or carving out a new area and hoping that if Hulu builds it, viewers will come? And for those folks coming to ad:tech who are most interested in video, what other content should they plan to enjoy?

Ianni: This could easily be a five-part question. First, it's easy for all of us to criticize in retrospect but-not surprisingly-the major media companies have screwed the pooch over-and-over again when it comes to content, distribution, and consumers' expectations. I think Hulu is both a defensive play and a vehicle that will ultimately force the evolution of the television business model. Certainly, the defensive component makes sense even though I think the threat of YouTube is completely overblown when it comes to the "piracy" of professionally-produced content. It's a classic big media overreaction. YouTube is about amateur video and the purely short-term, virally-based distribution of a very small amount of professionally produced content that is currently newsworthy.

Certainly, building a Hulu to make sure that people watch the professional content of Fox, NBC, and other networks in a proprietary, controlled environment as opposed to somewhere else-YouTube or otherwise-makes common sense. The more interesting fact is that Hulu is exactly what consumers want in regards to on-demand content, and this fundamentally runs counter to the traditional "audience-aggregation-appointment-based" business model of broadcast television. The genie is out of the bottle. They have set consumer expectations and there is no turning back, so they have to figure out how they will leverage digital distribution to counter what will be diminishing returns of traditional television. Now, there is a lot of discussion about how the cable networks, in conjunction with the MSOs, have come up with a potentially interesting idea of satisfying the on-demand desires of their audience while distributing this content in a monetized, proprietary environment. We'll see if they actually ultimately get this product to market.

We'll cover all of these issues at ad:tech. We will talk about digital distribution, video advertising, and online content creation and distribution. We are particularly thrilled with a partnership we have with the Digital Video Working Committee of the IAB. They will be hosting a Digital Video Forum that will include an update on new video advertising standards being developed by this working committee, case studies from YouTube, Yahoo, and Hulu as well as an extended open forum with the audience to discuss key issues related to online video.

Berens: A lot has changed since ad:tech New York last November, let alone since last year's San Francisco event. New President, new (down) economy-- has the conference content at ad:tech changed as well?

Ianni: We certainly will be covering many of the same issues and topics as we have in the past although we will be employing some new session formats and have some exciting new partnerships to announce. First, we will depend less on the moderator-panelist format and look to develop more true drill-down, workshop style sessions that are designed to maximize learning and offer tactical, timely advice on how to generate more revenues, optimize media performance, and successfully leverage and utilize emerging platforms. 

On the partnership front, we are thrilled to announce a partnership with Danny Sullivan and his SMX franchise. All of our search sessions at ad:tech San Francisco will be co-produced with Danny Sullivan and the series will be presented as SMX@ad:tech. We also are expanding our partnership with the IAB for ad:tech San Francisco. Randall Rothenberg, the CEO of the IAB, will return to moderate our lead State of the Industry Keynote Roundtable and I already mentioned the work we're doing with the IAB Digital Video Working Committee. 

We have developed additional content partnerships with the Online Publishers Association (OPA), the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO) and the Outdoor Video Advertising Bureau (OVAB).
 
Berens: The partial move away from panels and toward workshops sounds exciting. Are there any sessions in particular that you want to call to our readers' attention? And, speaking further of these workshops and, in general, who did you have in mind when you designed this new style of content? Who should plan to come? Who, in other words, are the ideal sorts of ad:tech conference attendees?
 
Ianni: There are many exciting workshops and we expect these sessions to offer a more drill-down offering in regards to specific issues and will insure that our delegates receive the best possible actionable advice and real-world examples of best practices. 

I am particularly excited about a workshop with Michael Perman, the Senior Director of Consumer Insights at Levi Strauss & Co as he will take an in-depth look at the power of storytelling. He wants us to "see white spaces and fill them in with new ideas" and I very much look forward to what he has to say. 

We also have a fantastic "Left Coast" creative session that will feature drill down case studies and best practices overviews with the agencies Publicis West and Agency.com and their respective clients, LG and Nike.

On Thursday, we also have a three-part Entrepreneur's Workshop that will feature actionable advice and high-value insights from leading VCs, entrepreneurs, and marketing experts.

Berens: Aside from Mr. Wales, is there any organizing theme to the conference this time around? Building on the last question, how is ad:tech San Francisco different than the other ad:techs around the world?
 
Ianni: All of our events focus on how digital is transforming all media and the business of marketing communications. But having said that, we design the shows to reflect the unique characteristics of their host cities, regions and countries. Here in the United States where we have three shows annually (San Francisco, Chicago, and New York), each show has a unique feel. In San Francisco, there is always a bit more of a technical feel and the start-up community (entrepreneurs, VCs, et cetera) is always out in full force. We also see a bit more of a focus on the emerging social media and user-generated content markets as many of these companies are headquartered in the Bay Area or on the West Coast.

Berens: The show is next week-- any last minute updates that we should know about?

Ianni: Yes, we are thrilled to announce that we recently added a new keynote for Thursday morning with Evan Hansen, Editor-in-Chief of Wired.com, joining us to interview the Founder and Chief Architect of Digg, Kevin Rose. This fits in with our overall disruption theme as Digg continues to push an innovative service and new media business model, and Kevin always has interesting things to say and has a strong following in the Bay Area. Additionally, we have Facebook coming to present a couple very interesting case studies looking at how leading marketers are leveraging social media to drive brand preference and bottom-line results, which should be very interesting and informative.

Berens: Looks like a good show, Drew. See you there!

iMedia Connection readers! come to my panel: "The Buyers Weigh In--What We REALLY Want" Wednesday, April 22, at 1:30pm.

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