For the past three days I watched as old media handed over the reins
to new -- as the basic economics of storytelling, news, entertainment
and the emerging force known as social media was reborn. Perhaps I'm
overstating, but after I present the evidence you can decide for
Let's start with the location -- the Monaco Media Forum in Monte
Carlo. Hundreds of invitation-only delegates converge on this tiny
principality best known for wealth, gambling, and as one of the
planet's preeminent tax havens. If you're rich and want a place to go
and enjoy your wealth without taxes, Monaco is ideal in every regard.
As a site to discuss the future of Media it was strangely well
suited. Far enough away from the 'real world.' You could explore
without the din of daily life. For East Coast Americans the six hour
time delay helped. For the folks from LA and San Francisco, 9 hours.
And for the Europeans and media folks from the Middle East and even
China - this seemed like strangely neutral ground. American media
wasn't the only game in town.
For the first time, everyone agrees that EVERYTHING is changing.
At issue: the combined forces of Google and the trend toward
Aggregation. Fox's Jonathan Miller, Huffington Post's Arianna
Huffington, Denuo's Rishad Tobaccowala, Axel Springer's Mathias
Dopfner, and a host of others sparred, often with significant sparks --
but in the end, there were some real conclusions and future-facing
Mathias began a full frontal assault on aggregation when he casually
pointed to the theft of content as an emerging trend, slyly suggesting
he wasn't accusing Huffington Post of such misdeeds. But he was, and
Arianna fought fiercely back.
Mathias says he wants to put his content behind a pay wall. Arianna
gleefully suggested that he would simply leave more audience for her.
Earlier in the week Rupert Murdoch had floated the idea that he
might pull his content out of Google's search, and so when Fox
Digital's Jonathan Miller was interviewed, Rafat Ali called on him to
defend Rupert's "pay for content" position. Jon wisely suggested that
in a time of change, lots of models would be tested, and some content
would be paid.
But Arianna, earlier in the day, had disputed the idea that any
model other than free would survive. She claimed that only live sports
and weird porn would work in a paid content world. No details on what
she meant by 'weird.'
On a panel called "When Aggregators Attack," Matt Kelly from the
Daily Mirror in the UK practically chewed up the furniture, pointing
the finger at Newser.com, The Daily Beast, and other Aggregators as
effectively destroying the value of news on the Web. It was not a warm
and fuzzy talk.
Said Matt of the Mirror, "It's not about great stories or unusual
circumstances that make a business, it's about the daily traffic. And
news has been commoditized and devalued - that's the issue." He's
criticizing abundance, but that seems unlikely to change.
But the folks who seem to be seeing most clearly in all this are the
'vision' guys at the large advertising groups like WPP. As Rishad
Tobaccowala laid it out, media used to be about scarcity and now it's
about abundance. Abundance of voices, platforms, devices, bandwidth.
Abundance scatters audience, but it at least theoretically makes ads
more effective if you can place and customize them to actual readers.
Perhaps most telling were two rather glaring bits of reporting published by the 'old media' during the conference.
Christine Ockrent from France's 24 network showed up to moderate a
conversation between Arianna Huffington and Axel Springer chief Mathias
Dopfner. But her grilling on the importance of real NEWS -- fact-based,
expensive, professional -- made it clear she had little patience for
Huffington Post's mix of gathered, reported and contributed content.
Then, as the news of Lou Dobbs' resignation from CNN was mentioned, she
responded, "Thank God." Strange presuming that everyone in the room
felt as she did. So much for objectivity.
And most glaringly, after Jonathan Miller's interview, Telegraph.UK
went to print with a story that said Miller had promised that Murdoch
content would be off Google within 90 days. The only problem is, he
didn't say that. He said a decision would be made within 90 days - but
he gave no indication of what that decision might be.
Of course, the twittersphere was crackling through all this (#mmf09)
and well it should be. Tweets – the latest form of free expression and
real time first person journalism – is the best evidence in favor of
free, multi-perspective storytelling.
In the end, it all came down to beer.
Mathias said that given the choice between free beer or paid beer,
the thirsty would drink the free beer if they're both of good quality.
He's brewing better beer, and wants to charge, but Arianna is giving
away his brew for free.
He misses one key point - Huffington Post's distribution system
doesn't need his content; there's plenty of other beer happy to stock
So, are the big newspapers talking about a worldwide, concerted
'strike' to pull out of free Web search? Matthew from the Guardian was
quick to dispel that rumor, saying that would be price-fixing or
Collusion or not, some media sources will wall off content and test
the shift from paid to free. That is a certainty. And Arianna seems to
think that she and the other aggregators will benefit from that -
"Bring it on," she says. Jonathan Millar was more diplomatic,
suggesting that they'll test lots of models as consumers look for new
ways and new devices to consume news.
In the end it's clear that aggregation is both an inevitability and an
aggravation for old media. And sitting at the Monaco Media Forum, media
makers and media distributors agree on only one thing. We're in for
dramatic change in the way business is done in the months ahead.
Originally Published: November 17, 2009 at 07:32 PM GMT
Read all Steve’s MediaBizBloggers commentaries at Steve Rosenbaum - MediaBizBloggers.