Mobile Is The Future! (Or Maybe Just The Present)

If there was a better appreciation for Internet history, this Advertising Week would be one to put in the time capsule and pull out later for a laugh, or a shudder.

It’s all about mobile, and what mobile means. At least it is this year. You could name every panel “Here’s What Three More People And a Moderator Say About Mobile” and the only possible variable would be the number of people.

On Tuesday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Bloomberg CCO Josh Tyrangiel kicked around the topic, just one hour after another panel did the same. The description of the Sandberg-Tyrangiel sitdown began: “The world is mobile. People today spend more time on digital than TV, driven by mobile growth. It’s the fastest adoption of communication technology in history.”

Maybe that’s why many of the discussions just don’t capture the vibe. It’s a tough job. Speakers are talking about the future of mobile and don’t even have much of a handle on the present, because it has happened so fast.

Geri Wang, president of ABC Sales, who was on a panel called “Content For Every Channel and Platform,” wondered aloud about what the next 18 to 24 months will bring to OTT. She seemed to have seen some upper-level preview, and assured us: “It’s going to be beautiful,” sounding just a bit like Nancy Pelosi explaining Obamacare for skeptical Republicans.

Like the others, she claims the network is right on time -- especially on mobile. Implicit, however, is the idea that TV still comes first even though we now spend more time with our smartphones than with the flat screen in the living room

“TV isn’t dying,” she said. “It’s just having babies.” (The quip, she admitted, wasn’t hers; it’s been making the rounds.)

The millennials, it seems, are hanging out with the kids and making fun of the old folks. Increasingly, they’re doing that on a mobile phone.

What’s next?

Jon Kamen, CEO of RadicalMedia, asked the logical question: “How long will people be looking at their phone? We’re going to be looking at new screens, new opportunities.”

Indeed, the future so quickly becomes the past. John Sykes, the president of entertainment enterprises for iHeartMedia (and the founder of MTV and VH1 who, evidently, has seen things come quickly and go away) said that distributing programming across all platforms happened so quickly it can scarcely be planned. 

“If you are repurposing,” he said, “you’re too late.”

Panel-mate Kamen is right, though. The structure is changing. Possibly with a nod toward Verizon’s new mobile-first content service, Go90, which is still in beta but soon will be available to all, he said, “The carriers have an incredible opportunity to be the curators” for a new generation. Left unsaid is that if that comes to pass, those television babies will create what really will be, after all these years, yet another new paradigm for panels of the future to kick around. 

This column was previously published in VidBlog on September 29. 2015.

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