What I'm Wondering After My Crazy Week On The Conference Circuit

I spend a lot of time at industry conferences. It’s a big part of how I try to keep in touch with the latest developments and emerging players in the ad, media and technology space. Plus, attending and speaking at conferences is also a great way to evangelize when you’re trying to help change an industry.

This has been an unusually busy conference week, even for me. On Sunday and Monday, I was at Techonomy in Tucson. Tuesday, I was at Comcast Venture’s first media and tech symposium in San Francisco. And since Wednesday evening, I’ve been at the Monaco Media Forum.

Over the past five days, I’ve heard inventor Ray Kurzweil speak about the future, magazine publisher Steve Forbes talk about the election, Weather Company CEO David Kenny talk about superstorm Sandy, and Monaco’s Prince Albert talk about better aligning media and education. It’s going to take me a while to fully digest what I’ve heard and learned over these days -- my head is still swimming -- but here are some of the questions I'm pondering from these past few super-stimulating days:

Will more and more media companies align with key global issues? After listening to Kenny speak at the Monaco Media Forum, I was struck by how much climate change issues are being integrated into his company’s strategy and mission. Apparently, one of the reasons the channel forecast Sandy so accurately so early is that its meteorological models have been adjusted to take into account significant climate change, something not all government models have done. While that may seem a perfectly logical association, there are other more subtle ways of aligning with global issues, like how newspapers functioned over the past century as a check and balance on government.

Why aren’t we recruiting brilliant and fearless teens into the ad and media business? I watched Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick (disclosure, I’m an investor in his company) interview brothers Sujay and Sheel Tyle, 19 and 21 years old respectively. Sujay is a brilliant scientist and entrepreneur and Sheel is already a successful venture capitalist. Both have been working since they were in the early teens and have already accomplished more than many do their whole lives. Both wonder why it’s so hard for super-talented young people to work and produce in companies sooner and faster. After listening to them, I wonder, too.

How fast can cheap tablets turn the media world upside down? Turkey is gong to give all its 20 million students WiFi-enabled tablet computers. Just imagine, in a few years, the entire younger generation of one of the world’s most strategic and emerging economies will be living much of their lives online, something unimaginable in that country 10 years ago. How fast will that change Turkey’s media? How long until every emerging economy does the same thing? Who will make, create and distribute the news, information and entertainment for these kids? I doubt it will be their parent’s media companies.

How will media companies without scale compete in our digital media world? After listening to a number of digital media companies like Google, Amazon,  Tumblr, Twitter or Skype talk about the power of their platforms -- always in terms of “hundreds of millions” of monthly users -- I wonder how companies without similar economies of scale will survive as this marketplace begins to consolidate and mature. The digital world permits companies with popular programs to scale audiences so quickly that it's virtually impossible for small players that were passed by to catch up.

The theme of these thoughts is one of rapid, disruptive and accelerating change. This week made me realize that our ecosystem is changing even faster than I thought. What do you think?

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