OnHollywood: The Weird Turn Pro

Down in Hollywood
Better hope that you don’t run out of gas
Down in Hollywood
They’ll drag you right outta your car and kick your ass

The song “Down in Hollywood” by Ry Cooder (on iTunes, on Amazon) is going through my mind as I walk the famous street to the Roosevelt Hotel for the OnHollywood conference, hosted by Tony Perkins of AlwaysOn. I pass a homeless mental case screaming obscenities at the street itself, a cackling squad of middle-aged Japanese tourists counting the stars on the sidewalk, foreign-born shopkeepers muttering quietly as they sweep up last night’s party trash, hustlers peddling dope, hookers peddling sex, and scores of kids babbling and texting and probably Twittering with their mobile phones, oblivious to their surroundings. (And what are you doing right now?) At Hollywood and Highland I turn into the Roosevelt’s entrance clogged with casually dressed technofolk, mostly from Silicon Valley and San Francisco, mingling with a minority of suited finance types from both coasts and about a handful of Big Media moguls. Inside it is cool, dimly lit, and way too stylish for the streets outside — a virtual representative of “old Hollywood” reality. Arianna Huffington and Carson Daly are the most visible representatives of the professional media that have taken the plunge into blogging and video channeling; but the true stars are the geeks and weirdos that have turned professional.

This is a conference that featured, among many demonstrations of video delivery methods, social networks with video, and video blogging, a panel on whether new technologies are killing good writing. The younger generation is not reading anyway — they’re watching videos and creating their own videos, and expressing themselves in instant messages. Tony Perkins started the conference with a slide that indicated how badly the Boomer Generation “gets it” — while those under 30 spend far more time doing instant messaging than email, those over 40 are hooked on email and Big Media content (presumably those between 30 and 40 maintain some kind of balance, maybe even a life). Even those over 40 who “get it” always seem to fall back on sports — scores, live games, stats, etc. — as the best example of how people will use streaming video on their mobile phones. Perhaps this reflects the male-dominated high-tech industry with its full-court-press attitude. All I know is, as a man over 50, after seeing that slide I’ve been haunted by the youth market. (And yes, those that are not busy being born are busy dying.) And I figure that if anyone can find a way to bring Boomers into this new media explosion, the advertising dollars will flow more freely. Why? Because the Boomers have more purchasing power than the teenagers.

Big Media has stalked teens for their pocket change as far back as Elvis. And now, as scary as it may seem to Clueless Boomers to have hundreds of new video distribution methods and millions of “channels” of video, it is much scarier to Big Media (most of which is run by Boomers), and Big Media is indeed running out of gas. Less people are watching TV, even less are watching the ads on TV. User-generated video, if not actually affecting the advertising revenue of broadcast networks and cable TV, is at least putting the scare into Big Media. It seems ludicrous that a geek like Justin Kan, broadcasting his entire life 24×7 using a webcam strapped to his head (Justin TV), is intimidating to Big Media, but Justin was there, at OnHollywood, almost as big as the other new Web 2.0 brands. And marketers are awaking to the opportunity to not only target advertising better to specific audiences, but also to track how well the ads are doing — something television networks can’t provide.

(In fact, finer measurements of the TV audience’s view of ads, proposed year after year by Nielsen, has been quietly ignored, according to Blake Krikorian of Sling Media, because TV networks don’t want advertisers to know how ineffectual the response really is. And while it is possible to put the Nielsen codes in videos that appear on various TV networks so that the Nielsen boxes measure responses, the information advertisers get is idiosyncratic to the network — Comcast’s data is different than data from other networks. Sorting through these different data sets to determine an ad campaign’s response is a business intelligence problem that advertisers haven’t addressed.)

The conference served to point out not only how unconnected Big Media really is to the buying public, but how irrelevant they seem to be to the new Web 2.0 companies. The one panel that featured the Big Media moguls had the attendees leaving in droves for the schmooze lounge. Funny thing about that: the techno people are terrible schmoozers. The social media nerds are not very sociable! Nor do they pay attention to the panels. They’re more interested in the instant comments from the new global “peanut gallery” attending the conference from the computers far away — the chat room, on display next to the speakers. Everyone laughed not when Carson Daly told a joke about having bad hair on stage for the world to see, but when someone out in the world commented back that Carson’s hair looked fine. We are giddy with what technology can do, but since we haven’t mastered social connections in the real world, how can we possibly make them work in the virtual?

Andrew Keen in his blog, the Great Seduction (“Virtual reality in Hollywood“), has this to say (which neatly sums up the mood of the conference):

This surreal panel [“What’s in store for Virtual Worlds?”] was held in a room named the “Cinegrill” in the basement of Hollywood’s historic Roosevelt Hotel. After a few minutes of virtual reality talk, I began to look around the room. There must have been around fifty people in the audience — digital entertainment executives, Hollywood wannabe moguls, media journalists, bloggers, posers like myself. Only three of them (and I counted, I promise) were looking at the four executives up on the stage of the Cinegrill. The others were peering at their electronic toys — laptops, BlackBerries, phones, Treos. Nobody was paying attention to what was happening in the Cinegrill. Everyone had been consumed by their screens.

And yet, just about everything at the conference was interesting — possibly because it was limited to the top 100 companies that AlwaysOn’s judges believe are tops in the field. This “hit list” of 100 companies include some brand names like Gracenote and Sling Media (which is number one on the list). YouTube was on it last year. Here are some new services that struck me as really interesting, and I’ll be covering more over the next few weeks:

  • Start your own video channel with me.tv. The service packages a .TV domain purchase with pre-designed themes and easy-to-use video management tools. Channel “broadcasters” can browse top video sites and with a single click grab embed code and links for their favorite videos, allowing for quick and easy programming of their own .TV channels. Each .TV channel is its own social networking site with private or public profiles, blogs, message boards, on-site messaging, user ratings, favorites, friends lists, comments, and photo albums. MTV VJ Carson Daly opened the OnHollywood conference with his new .TV channel.
  • BlogTalkRadio lets bloggers add a live talk show to their blogs, with live interaction over the Internet. Listeners can call the host during the blogshow using any phone, whether it be a landline, mobile, VOIP, soft phone, etc., or visit the blog and use their favorite instant messenger client. Free to bloggers, the service plans to put advertising in the shows and share revenues with bloggers.
  • Cozmo.TV lets you build your own video channel, but it also helps you time-shift television content and search by keywords. If you are familiar with scheduling your TiVo today online through TiVo Central or Yahoo!, you basically get the same functionality with Cozmo. Like TiVo, Cozmo will offer a wide variety of categories to browse from: history, documentary, science fiction, etc. and have full search capability. Even more interesting is the ability to tag television content with keywords, to make content discovery easier.
  • Joost is already putting TV shows on the Internet for anyone to watch; the fact that it started with reruns is no surprise but this trend is seriously catching on, with mobile phones the next medium for watching these shows.

As I left the Roosevelt bound for Burbank, the same kids were still Twittering on the sidewalk, the Japanese tourists had moved on to the Chinese Theater, the junkies crowded around the hustlers, more hookers were flaunting more booty, and the homeless mental case was still screaming obscenities at the street. Nothing had changed except people at the conference left feeling a bit more anxious, and virtual reality was beginning to look promising as the only escape.

Stay tuned — same iTimes blog, same iTimes channel…

Ry Cooder - Bop Till You Drop - Down in Hollywood

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