(All photos via Flickr user Unrest Cure; one of the panels at the Economic of Social Media Conference)
Netscape recently attended the first-ever Economics of Social Media conference, held in Los Angeles last Thursday. Hosted by Rafat Ali
, the editor of Paid Content
, the one-day conference sold out two and half weeks in advance and drew about 500 people from around the country.
The night before the conference, the organizers threw a cocktail party at CAA
's spacious new headquarters in Century City. CAA wasn't a sponsor, but Ali told me that the super agency was eager to donate the space--a sure sign that CAA agents are watching what's going on in social media.
After chatting with Ali (with whom I worked at the now defunct Silicon Alley Reporter
), I ran into Los Angeles blogger Sarah Gim
and Nicholas Butterworth
, founder of Travelistic.com. (Butterworth was also my old boss at SonicNet.) We also met Jason Shellen
, who does business development for Google, sizing up new companies for potential acquisition. Yes, Shellen was popular at the party--everyone wanted to talk to him.
The conference proper, held at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, drew a wide range of attendees. Carson Daly
(who is working on a new media venture called DotTV) participated in the "Social Media and Hollywood" panel. At one point he was asked whether YouTube was a viable venue for budding actors to gain exposure. Most unknown actresses still think of the Web as a second-rate alternative to television, argued one audience member. Daly took the opposite tack. For those without powerful Hollywood connections, he insisted, the Web is a great option. Daly went so far to give some advice to post-"The View" Rosie O'Donnell: Go do a show online.
Another interesting tidbit came out of the the same panel. According to David Eun
, Vice President for Content Partnerships at Google Media, YouTube is already looking ahead to the 2008 elections. The company has created areas where candidates can upload videos and users can discuss election issues. The result, says Eun, should be a "global town hall."
More media talk continued in the "Journalism and Social Media" panel. With the newspaper business in transition, asked one panelist, is there still an economic payoff for high quality journalism? Yes, replied Kara Swisher
of the Wall Street Journal
, but newspapers need to accept the reality of a multi-platform world. "We focus too much on the [print] product," added Swisher. (And indeed, consumers can increasingly get their WSJ
fix from a Palm Pilot or any mobile device.) Meanwhile Rich Skrenta
, CEO of Topix.net, made his own pitch for mixing national news with locally produced journalism. He touched briefly on the topic of citizen journalism--clearly less of a hot-button issue than it was last year--and raised the question: "Does it matter who delivers the news?"
The highlight of the afternoon was a discussion about how deals get funded. All the panelists, including Internet pioneer Esther Dyson
and Sling Media president Jason Hirschhorn,
agreed the rules have changed as huge companies (News Corp, AOL) acquire smaller ones. But the panelists agreed that News Corp's purchase of MySpace was a good example of an acquisition gone right. The network has kept the original founding team, and simply let the brand grow within the larger corporation.
Additionally, CBS's Quincy Smith
offered this advice to companies looking to be acquired: Position yourself 3-5 years down the road, rather than simply focusing on the present. Often companies aren't thinking about their growth strategy, said Smith. The panelists also touched on how it may be essential for an acquiring company to shift around management. (Example: the CEO of an acquired company may really be a better business product manager than a CEO.) Finally, Esther Dyson noted that social networking is currently doing very well in Brazil. Why? Dyson, who's been operating on Internet time since approximately 1997, was too rushed to elaborate.
Here's the Flickr pool of photos
from the whole conference. For anyone who wished they'd attended, Ali says he is having another conference this fall in New York. Judging by number of high-profile attendees at EconSM, Netscape predicts Paid Content will do very well in the conference space!