Only Soft Blows Thrown As Media Trade Chiefs Sing A Chorus Of 'Kum Bah Yah'

The Night of the Media Heavyweights was fought to a draw Thursday night in a matchup that featured spirited debate and some good-natured sparring but no knockouts. It also didn't break much new ground on the topic - cross-media platforms - it was supposed to enlighten.

The cross-media forum, held in midtown Manhattan, was sponsored by Dynamic Logic and moderated by Carat North America Chief Executive Officer David Verklin. Verklin, who has enlivened many an industry gathering, guided, prodded and sometimes cajoled executives from trade groups representing six mediums and the National Newspaper Network. Network television was the only big constituency not represented, as Verklin noted in the beginning, though its long shadow cast over part of the proceedings.

Sean Cunningham, who left Universal McCann recently to lead the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, came out of the box swinging at network TV. He pummeled the broadcast networks' declining ratings among men 18-24 and men 18-34.

"We know where all the missing men are," said Cunningham, who noted that cable wasn't seeing the drops in the coveted young male demographics.

Jason Klein, who is also new to the reins of the National Newspaper Network, tried to claim newspapers as the mass reach vehicle, offering up data showing 55 percent penetration among adults and 40-something percent among 20-somethings. Klein's assertion drew fire from several media representatives, including the Radio Advertising Bureau's George Hyde. Hyde's strategy going into the heavyweight bout was to position radio as the trusted friend of hundreds of millions of Americans, noting that when the lights went out in New York City and elsewhere in the Northeast on Aug. 14, it was radio where people turned. That drew applause and some cheers from the crowd, although it was hard to tell whether they were radio loyalists or just happy to have survived the Blackout of 2003.

Most of the panelists beat up on this year's reigning CPM champion, astonished that the network TV upfront could have been so robust with declining ratings and yet higher premiums. And there was even a little time for infighting between cable and broadcast. When Verklin wished that movies on TV weren't interrupted so many times by seven-minute commercial pods, the Television Bureau of Advertising's Abby Auerbach retorted: "I think you've been watching a lot of cable." That drew Cunningham's disapproval.

Save for a few flashes, much of the night was sound bites and snippets boosting the individual media and more than a few statistics. Verklin's rapid-fire questioning of the panelists on off-beat topics drew out insights that you normally wouldn't find in such a conference. The tame proceedings surprised at least one panelist, the RAB's Hyde, who acknowledged that he had been in training before the bout. Turns out that when the bell rang, all that prep wasn't necessary.

"I'm waiting for everyone to link arms and sing 'Kum Ba Yah,'" Hyde cracked.

Cross media, the putative topic of the night, took glancing blows until two panelists hit the topic squarely toward the end of the two-hour title fight. William Cook, vice president of research at the Advertising Research Federation, moved the topic toward cross media and Michael Donahue, executive vice president at the Association of American Advertising Agencies, made a pitch for unity in the midst of threats to advertising. Donahue said there needed to be more research and cooperation in cross media efforts, given the need to keep advertising vital in the face of challenges from everything from TiVo to satellite radio and subscription video on demand.

"You need to find ways to sell with each other, not against each other," Donahue counseled.

Stephan Freitas of Outdoor Advertising Association of America, and Ellen Oppenheim of the Magazine Publishers of America both talked about the need to change the way media is measured. Freitas said that TV has left its imprint on measurement yet that it needs to change with the times. Oppenheim, who outlined the MPA's new involvement study released at its annual meeting last week, said that measurement needs to be discussed in terms of what it does for the consumer.

"Consumers don't care about measurement. They care about the connection" to the media, Oppenheim said.

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