I Hate Conferences (Part I)
I hate conferences. I just cannot pay attention to people on panels blathering on. Maybe it’s ADD? Maybe it’s my ego, since I have no issues paying attention when I am the one on the panel. So as a result, I just don’t go to many conferences. And when I do go, like many other people, I find the most value sitting in the hallways meeting and making friends.
This week I am in L.A. at the Digital Hollywood and Forbes MEET conferences. A two-fer for a guy who doesn’t even want a one-fer. Since these are the first conferences I have paid to attend in years, I am making a real attempt to stay focused during the sessions and will try to tell you if I glean anything of interest or import. I have to say that these panels all remind me of Charlie Brown’s teacher ….
Digital Hollywood (Oct 23)
I sat through the first day of sessions at this conference, including the panel “User Generated Content – Part II: Internet, Communications and Advertising Transformation.” Pithy title huh? I learned absolutely nothing from this conference and consider it a CWOTAM* – in part because there were 5-6 speakers on each panel and therefore hard to get to any depth on a topic as everyone is gasping for air-time. This entire conference struck me as a massive group therapy session for every startup that isn’t YouTube. I bailed after the first day and headed over to the Forbes MEET conference.
I have been told this conference had 450 panelists over 3.5 days. I wonder if that’s the same total as the number of attendees.
Forbes MEET (Oct 24, 25)
So in terms of value per ticket price, I have to say that Forbes did a good job. Here’s why:
- Fantastic panelists – Chad Hurley of YouTube, Barry Diller, Philip Rosedale of Second Life, Ashwin Navin of BitTorrent, others
- Great attendees – present company accepted
- Controversial conversations – Peter Adderton of AMP’d Mobile vs. Jim Ryan of Cingular.
- Ample time for networking with the panelists and attendees.
- Opulent locale – the Beverly Hills Hotel is obscenely old-style Hollywood and no I did not stay there; too expensive for my budget!
Lots of discussion about user-contributed content, video and music and business models and business models and business models. Some memorable moments for me were:
- Regarding the long-term appeal of user-contributed content, Barry Diller telling Michael Eisner “there just aren’t that many talented people” out there.
- Chad Hurley not answering the question posed “Is the YouTube purchase the sign of the next bubble?”
- Roger McNamee indicating the future of user-contributed content will be when it moves from people with lots of free time (kids and college students) to those with no free time. He believes the latter category will find greatest appeal from a combination of user and professionally generated content. Hmmm … didn’t he just buy a big chunk of Forbes?
- Blake Krikorian of SlingBox telling Tara Maitra of TiVo “You know what sucks about TiVo?” Great question, but his answer was that the connectedness of TiVo boxes is not uniform (weak). IMO the better answers are: (1) subscription fees, when Titan TV is free and much better, (2) TiVo-to-Go and the DVR sharing because they download not stream, (3) that they let Blake create SlingBox in the first place!
- Ashwin Navin of BitTorrent claiming that in UK in conjunction with NTL Telewest, they’re supporting downloads of feature-length HD quality movies in 10 min. Wow.
- Christopher Ahearn of Reuters, when referencing the importance of user-contributed news, paraphrased David Reed and said “90% of everything is crap … but since the pie is growing exponentially, that other 10% is huge!” He also said “An infinite number of monkeys, working on an infinite number of typewriters, with an infinite amount of time, will smell pretty bad.”
- Someone from the audience asked a great question of Ted Sarandos from Netflix about the potential for a drop in their monthly profit per customer once they move to digital download, because of increased viewings per month; he responded that they (Netflix) were not worried because this phenomenon would be more than offset by the drop in costs by the move online. Hmmm … I’d love to see the analysis of this. Ted indicated digital distribution has always been in Netflix’s plans and they’d release more information next quarter.
What was bad about this conference?
Attendance was light, particularly on day two, which is too bad. The worst thing? Sadly, Morgan Freeman and his business partner in ClickStar were the “Special Session” at the end of day one was a shameless plug for their broadband movie service. Their “partner” is Intel and to borrow from Lewis Black shamelessly, “when I think movies, I think Intel.” This was HORRIBLE. Morgan, one of my all-time favorites was not well-prepared and didn’t engage with the audience. It was impossible to see any value-added differentiation vs. already up and running services like CinemaNow and MovieLink, not to mention iTunes video. My take is that Morgan and his partner are well paid spokesmodels for Intel’s ViiV platform and that this will be a smoking big hole in the ground. And to put the real nail in the coffin, Morgan wouldn’t respond to a question about his time on the Electric Company.
What was weird about this conference?
One session was titled, “Forbidden Boxes: Outlawed but Inevitable?” and had panelists from Sling Media, TiVo, Bit Torrent and … Motorola. Remember the old Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong … “
Digital Hollywood? Two Thumbs Down, way down. Forbes MEET, Two Enthusiastic Thumbs Up!