Last Wednesday, paidContent hosted a one-day conference dedicated to the robust developments surrounding, well … paid content. The New York event was sponsored jointly by GigaOm, which picked up paidContent in February 2012 when it bought ContentNext from U.K.-based Guardian News & Media Limited.
The conference agenda was fast-paced, with most panels and discussions running only 20 to 30 minutes. It was also ambitious, combining the range of O'Reilly Media's (longer) Tools of Change conference with the business model focus generally reserved for events like DeSilva & Philips' annual media banking event.
The first half of the morning largely covered the "new" in "new media". Topics included:
- Rise of the digital new media entity
- Where the money is going (according to guest Ken Lerer, at any rate)
- Impact of personalization and algorithms on the attention economy; and
- The Guardian and open journalism
Maybe it was the dense nature of these opening sessions, but the second half of the morning dragged by comparison. An interview with Tumblr founder David Karp shed little light on "where the company fits in the media landscape", and a somewhat manufactured debate failed to answer whether "apps or the web are the future of mobile content". The best answer seemed to be a rousing "it depends".
After lunch, Felix Salmon of Reuters moderated a session on "the future of native advertising: blurring ads and content". The panel, which included representatives from Forbes Media and Buzzfeed, needed more than the allotted half hour to get at some of the implications of sponsored content.
Mid-afternoon, Laura Owen moderated a panel focused on the book industry. Although the panel included three highly regarded speakers (Rachel Chou from Open Road, Dominique Raccah of Sourcebooks and Evan Ratliff from Atavist), a notable portion of the audience left as their session began. Those who ducked out for coffee missed the best-prepared and perhaps the most honest panel of the conference.
Even though books are truly "paid content", the mid-afternoon exodus may be another sign that the category isn't considered very cutting edge. That's more than just a PR problem, even if you'd rather be HarperCollins than Time Inc. these days.
That said, the audience returned in force to hear "lessons from the blogging elite", a panel that included best-selling author Tim Ferriss, Maria Popova from Brain Pickings (a keynote at this year's TOC in New York), Andrew Ross Sorkin of both CNBC and the New York Times and Andrew Sullivan, now out on his own with The Dish. Their best answers also seemed to be a chorus of "it depends", as each approaches blogging with different interests and expectations.
The last interview of the day saw Aereo founder and CEO Chet Kanojia make news with his comments about a recent claim that Fox would go "off the air" if his company continued to win court battles as a legitimate service. The 20 minutes allocated to his session was just too short for a service that could upend broadcast television business models. I'll try to come back with a post focused on Aereo alone.
The day ended with a set of five startup presentations from RebelMouse, Spreecast, Circa, Prismatic and Branch. In some ways the showcase was a metaphor for the business of paid content: speed and uncertainty while most of us hope for a collective breath.