One of my favorite parts of Advertising Week -- besides when it's over, and I can go back to the home office and take off the heels -- is the Future of Media Forum, which, as it turns out, is sponsored by this very publication: MediaPost's Media magazine (I swear that the first time I went, I didn't even know that.)
It's an almost-two-hour-long panel featuring heavy hitters of the marketing and media world. This year's list included Schematic's Trevor Kaufman, Digitas' Laura Lang, IPG's John Ross, The Economist's Paul Rossi, Yahoo's Hilary Schneider, Twitter's Evan Williams, Union Square Ventures' Fred Wilson, Vanity Fair's Michael Wolff (who also founded Newser) and NBC Universal's Lauren Zalaznick. You get the drift. Amongst them, there's almost a 360-degree perspective on the world of media.
So, here's what I came away with: that, partly due to social, perhaps the biggest disconnect we face in the marketing and media industrial complex is that ad-supported media needs marketing more than marketing needs it.
One example: Wilson, sitting between Williams and Wolff, pointed out that "media is infiltrating every business," observing that he was sitting, literally and figuratively, between the two. He explained his situation as: "Using technology that Ev invented -- blogging -- pretending that I'm Michael."
Wilson's point was that, although what he produces (while blogging) is media, it isn't media that needs a business model. For him, it serves other purposes. And yet, in the media consumption marketplace, he is competing against media that does need the money. No problem for him, of course, but a big problem for the Michael Wolffs of the world.
But that's actually to express the marketing/media disconnect in reverse. Wolff kept asking how all of the changes in media and advertising would pay for what ad-supported media companies still do. It was as though this event were not "The Future of Media Forum" but the "'Does Media Have a Future?' Forum."
The truth is that, ultimately, how ad-supported media finances itself will only matter if advertisers think it deserves financing. If people stop buying magazines, both of that medium's revenue streams -- subscription and advertising - would wither. But, if Wolff's Vanity Fair built a hugely compelling iPad app -- and worked closely with its advertisers to produce particularly compelling ads for it - then the model lives, if in a new, digital form. (Which is not, by the way, to say this can't happen in print.)
Similarly, if consumers continue their rush to DVRs -- and what we can only assume is mass fast-forwarding through TV commercials -- then that medium doesn't really have the wherewithal to be financed as much by advertising anymore. Advertisers will go where it's worth their while. No matter whether that's a pre-roll before an episode of "30 Rock," a branded content site, an iPhone app or a campaign that goes viral on YouTube, advertisers are not really in the business of financing ad-supported media -- except when it works for them.
Sitting in the middle of it all is Twitter -- and other social channels -- which will rely on advertising revenue while simultaneously giving marketers some liberation from ad-supported media. In a sense, Advertising Week was Twitter's coming-out party on Madison Avenue; the company really hadn't paid much attention to us before. I moderated a panel at OMMA Global about "Promoted Tweets" -- one of Twitter's paid models -- with executives from Coke and Verizon; Dick Costolo, COO of Twitter, appeared at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's MIXX conference; and then, of course, Williams sat on the "Future of Media" panel.
But there's a difference between Twitter and other media companies looking for ad revenue: Twitter can support both models. Advertisers including JetBlue and Starbucks are, in fact, using both paid and earned channels. To that extent, advertisers will need Twitter -- but putting injecting advertising into media no longer means that money has to change hands.