[Photo by telethon]
Many thanks to the legend that is Aegis’s Steve Taylor for this soon-to-be-copyrighted three-syllable strapline that will further confuse and embarrass my parents as they try to explain what their son is up to these days.
I caught up with Steve and many other lovely people this week at b.TWEEN 2009 in Liverpool, once again so slickly and genially hosted by Katz Kiely and her dedicated, professional crew.
Digital Media Players
For those of you who don’t know about b.TWEEN, it’s an annual gathering of key players from the digital media world, converging in one place to debate issues of the day, deconstruct industry trends, share knowledge and promote and provide collaborative opportunities. Please do look at the b.TWEEN site for a proper flavour of the programme menu and archive of the proceedings.
This year I was attending as 100% delegate, rather than a speaker [’07] or partner [’08] and over the two days managed to cram in many of the sessions on offer. As someone with latent Luddite tendencies, I wanted to try and understand how advances in digital media can best serve the aspirations of Not From Concentrate.
I personally felt that b.TWEEN this year, compared to the last two years, had a very different feel to it – more resignation, frustration and – it has to be said – confusion about what the future of, er, future media actually holds for many of us, a feeling I’m glad to say that was echoed – albeit in hushed tones – by a number of fellow delegates during the breakout sessions.
Uppermost in my mind was the somewhat lack of detail around the financial investment and monetary sustainability that all commissioners and producers of digital content must hold dear if the industry is going to evolve [i.e. make money] efficiently over the next few years.
Social Networking Rules
Consumers of content are absolutely in the driving seat right now, dictating via swarms of social networks what they will watch, where they will watch it, how they will engage and, most importantly, when and if they will pay for it.
As is – frustratingly – the norm for these kind of industry events, there was a complete lack of consumers to be found in any of the sessions – either tech natives – the early and natural adopters of new technologies – or the tech tourists who, whilst more cash-strapped these days, will spend if the product offers a decent return on any purchase.
And speaking of ROI, much as I tried to pester the panels on Twitter during the sessions, no-one seemed willing to divulge the detail of any sums of money that had been spent recently by brands, advertisers or commissioners on digital media/cross platform projects and what payback they got for their cash?
New Media Opportunities
For me, this is key: ‘traditional’ media needs to embrace the opportunities that ‘new/future/mutual/social’ media offers. That’s a given of course, but what would be SO useful as a benchmark – and, to be viewed without judgement or prejudice – would be a proper, top-line summary of how much ‘stuff’ [‘stuff’ is the new ‘content’ apparently] costs and what the investor gets in return.
Is it really so difficult or awkward for people who know to say that Widget A was developed for Company B at a cost of £C, which resulted in an X% rise [or not] in sales or a Z% increase in brand awareness amongst generation Y? Seemingly it is.
But without publishing these details, how can any new tech start-up, advertiser, broadcaster or media agency properly map this constantly-shifting landscape and position themselves and their products/outputs successfully?
My more cynical side would therefore suggest that, apart from – *whisper* – the porn industry, attempts to embrace this so far simply haven’t worked; that investment in digital media hasn’t generated the kind of results that were expected or promised.
So what? There’s no shame in that – we all know that this is a Brave New World, a world without physical frontiers, a world of trial and error. But armed with some more statistical and up-front knowledge of exactly what is or isn’t working, we can be more calculating in our future Future Media developments.
Finally, a word about the balance between theory / strategy and actually doing stuff. Most of the sessions covered the former by the bucketload and, whilst interesting, there was a distinct lack of the latter, save really for the presentation by the gang behind one of the most talked-about projects in the trade press recently and at b.TWEEN.
Future Media: Purefold
Purefold, the bastard brainchild of a collaboration between Dave Bausola’s start-up Ag8 and Ridley Scott’s dynasty of creative DNA. At first glance, massively complicated and liable to have any potential investors running for the ‘safety’ of serving sky, banner and MPU pollutants to an already overdosed audience.
Scratch a little deeper and you’ll find an innovative way of channelling, aggregating and sifting the current tsunami of web 2.0 conversations and, with a select team of world-class writers and film directors, turning these streams of conciousness into engaging short-form content which is then released back into the community for further development and mash-up by the users.
In one fell swoop you get engagement, entertainment and interaction – everything today’s consumers and advertisers want to be part of, if the theorists are to be believed.
It’s early days for the Purefold, er, fold, and of course they’re spending a lot of their time right now just talking about it. But from what I can see, they’re going to do this – it will happen.
Perhaps one valuable piece of advice worth bearing in mind for all producers and purveyors of digital media should be the line that Kevin Costner – or was it Paul Raymond? – once said:
“Build it, and they will come…”