“Adapt or die.”
In white lettering against a black background, those words projected onto a screen at the Huntington Beach Hyatt Tuesday morning summed up the point of the Streaming Media West conference.
It went up immediately after a slide with the logos of Barnes N Noble, Kodak, Tower Records and Blockbuster–once beloved brands that, uh, did not adapt.
Instead, the companies resisted market changes brought about by new technology, changes that have made successes out of companies that came later like Amazon, Expedia and Roku, noted the morning's keynote speaker Dan Ackerman, senior vice president of Adap.tv.
His company, a division of AOL Networks, develops products and data for businesses that have gone all in with video advertising across multiple platforms. StreamingMedia.com, the conference presenter, is a news media outlet serving that same market.
The conference comes at a time when consumers are considering ditching cable and satellite television for streaming Internet services like the aforementioned Roku, and programmers are simultaneously presenting content on multiple devices like televisions, laptops and cell phones. Streaming Media West exhibitors are the companies with the software, hardware and clouds that are making that happen.
Video advertising is, Ackerman told a polite crowd of a few hundred, the next digital revolution, one that's turning the entire advertising business upside down. Growth is not being seen in advertising that casts a wide net for potential customers but that which targets the individual.
Advertisers recognize this, Ackerman noted. He cited successful media companies like the Wall Street Journal, ESPN and Turner Broadcasting that held out as long as they could with strictly the old advertising model but have now poured resources into targeted ads.
Taking questions from a moderator, Ackerman answered he does not believe digital will kill television, but our notion of television will evolve beyond watching a big screen receiving a broadcast signal. Having led ad strategy and innovation at CBS Local Media before moving over to San Mateo-based Adap.tv, Ackerman said he believes targeted advertising will enhance the television business model.
But what about consumers who are used to devouring content without ads (or by scrolling through them very fast)? Ackerman told the moderator it is up to businesses to figure out which automated advertising is right for that consumer so s/he will be intrigued, not repelled. Figuring that out involves collecting data on the person's consumption habits. And this is and will be going on for each individual in a household; each will have one's own individual suite of video ads.
Doing that sounds expensive, but Ackerman swore advertisers will see value in this kind of model.
Responding to audience questions, Ackerman said he does see a potential for consumers who “opt in” for ads catered specifically for them, noting younger adults grew up more accepting of advertising. This will be especially true if it is understood the ads are a part of the content they really want. Meanwhile, Ackerman indicated to another audience member broadband cable's days may be numbered thanks to boxes that offer not hundreds but thousands of channels. “There has to be a shift,” he said.
Live streaming video by Ustream
I was frankly expecting more exhibitors in the exhibit hall, but that could very well be a reflection of how much room there is to get into the streaming media business. Next to logos for the companies exhibiting their wares and know-how are explanations like “live video streaming anytime,” “multi-screen live video streaming anytime,” “DVR online,” “video mixing,” “sound,” “virtual studios” and “video on multiple devices.”
You can check out the full lineup at www.streamingmedia.com/Conferences/West2013/ in case you want to hit the conference before it leaves town this evening.
The fact that I saw about a half dozen exhibits from companies offering live video streaming prompted me to ask a fellow named Connor at the LiveGear booth what differentiates these services. He replied he could not speak for everyone because he had not toured the floor yet. But as far as LiveGear is concerned, it markets a device with the power of six cell phones to collect video that is then sent to a receiver and then out to the world.
Irony alert: Connor could not demonstrate this for me at that exact moment because he was missing a cable a colleague went out to fetch. So cable is not dead yet!
Over on the opposite corner of the exhibit hall, Alan Wolk of Piksel, a New York-based company that shows clients like Airbus and Volkswagen how to create more value from video, gave a mini-lecture that defied conventional wisdom when it comes to “second-screen” viewing.
Wolk does not see growth in advertising audiences from social media like Twitter, despite the mighty IPO sale. Think about it: except for a very small number of must-see-live-or-first-run programming–Wolk cited the Super Bowl and Pretty Little Liars–most people do not simultaneously tweet while they watch television. Instead, thanks to DVR and TiVo, they watch at their leisure, making a live tweet of, say, a Chelsea Lately episode you're watching two days later worthless.
Where advertisers can capitalize is through apps that bundle programming an individual viewer watches most frequently, similar programs they may want to check out and, yes, even video advertising they may not want to see at that moment but will come back to later. Wolk cautioned consumers probably won't store a whole bunch of these video ads at once, more likely a half dozen or so. But the fact that they show that much interest in a particular ad as valuable to know as the individual's interests and how long they view content in one sitting.
The idea is to create a shopping experience for the viewer that is much similar to walking around a mall and only entering the stores that interest him or her. Wolk called the data used to create that experience “a huge goldmine.”
Reading all this, you may be struck by a feeling Ackerman had when he was asked by someone in the audience earlier if televisions will one day watch us as closely as we watch them to collect the data necessary for targeted advertising and programming.
“The technology is there to do it,” replied the Adap.tv senior veep. “But that's very creepy though. I don't think I want to live in a world that does that.”