Highlights Fom OPA London

I'm currently attending the Online Publishers Association's Forum for the Future in London. This is the second year for the Forum, which is living up to its well-earned reputation from last year as a unique event focused on high-level issues and networking for top digital executives from many of the world's most important media and content companies. The event only started yesterday afternoon, but I've already heard and participated in some fascinating discussions. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The big are getting bigger. At this event last year, there was a lot of talk and attention on research from Marketscape that determined that 88% of the gross online ad spend in the US in 2005 went to only four companies, Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL. While some of this money ultimately was paid to independent sites through ad networks, it was a very sobering number. Well, Marketscape's founder addressed the Forum today and told us that last year the "Big Four" received 92% of the gross online ad spend in the U.S. While this is great news for those aggregators, it's certainly a very scary development for those thousands and thousands of ad-supported Web media companies. The landscape isn't leveling, it's tilting even more.



  • Mobile is poised for some big changes. You can't put me in Europe and not talk about mobile Internet. Certainly, the U.K. and Europe have been well ahead of the U.S. in digital mobile for a number of years. In talking to some participants, I learned that they are expecting big changes soon in development of the mobile Internet, primarily led by -- yes -- Google. Many expect Google's move into mobile search to "break the deck" -- the "walled garden" control that network carriers have held on mobile Internet content. Basically, the belief is that as consumers adopt search on phones, the search results will take them to "off-deck" sites and content. This will drive content providers to build wireless application protocol sites -- and, just as on the Web, mobile users will browse more and more by searching and clicking, not by following the default navigation that the carriers try to force on them.

  • Predictive Marketing. George Kliavkoff, Chief Digital Officer of NBC/Universal, talked on a panel today about some real surprises the company has received from its early efforts to use search engine optimization and marketing to drive interest in NBC's new television shows. Its search agency tracked a number of blog posts about the new shows more than a month before they aired -- and well before any consumers had seen the programming. Once the shows were released, the agency went back and looked at the blog post data and determined that the volume trend lines of the show-related blog posts closely correlated with the actual television ratings that the shows ultimately received. Basically, blog behaviors accurately predicted ultimate consumer behaviors. As Kliavkoff observed, this could have an enormous impact on how online marketing, and the data and insights that it generates, could become a central driver in media companies' offline product and marketing decisions.

  • Start-up Valuations. From discussions at cocktails and during the coffee breaks, it is clear that the extraordinary valuations that digital media and marketing startups are getting in the U.S. have made their way over here as well. Startups with incomplete teams and no revenue are commanding valuations in excess of $50 million, numbers that only two years ago would have been reserved for start-ups that already have annual revenues of $5 million to 10 million. Is another Internet bubble in the offing? Probably not, since these valuations are, at this point, only impacting the venture capital and privacy equity funds that are making these valuations. However, it is almost certain that a very significant number of startups are never going to achieve monetization for their shareholders at a level that will give their inventors those kinds of valuations on exit.

Want to know more about what is happening over here? You can follow some of the bloggers that are here, Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine and one for PaidContent.

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