Buzz From Digital Hollywood

Hollywood's talking a lot about Google. What else is on everybody's mind?

To check the barometer, I sat on a panel at Digital Hollywood in Santa Monica last week with five other speakers to cover the most ground I've ever seen any panel attempt to navigate: "Broadband Advertising: The Power Surge -- Video, PODs, Social Networks, Links & Banners -- Entertainment, Digital Publishing, Communities and Search Engines Emergence." We could have talked about immigration rights and Iraqi politics and it still would have been on-topic.

I was inspired by Aaron Goldman who, at the Search Insider Summits, has kept a running checklist of the biggest buzzwords from the event and then shared them during his panel. I thought it would be fun to do that while on my panel, though it was a bit more challenging to take notes and participate in the panel at the same time.

I tried keeping tabs of 35 buzzwords, themes, and topics, and I had no way of noting who said what. While I can't credit each of them with their takeaways, I'll acknowledge en masse the wise coterie who I had the pleasure of learning from: Disney Online's Brad Davis, Fuel Industries' Brady Gilchrist, McCann WorldGroup's Marc Ruxin,'s Ben Trenda, Maven Networks' Nicholas Troiano, and moderator Warren Lee of Canaan Partners.



On to the hottest buzz:

Brands: Branding, protecting brands, and catering to big brands were at the heart of the discussion. Fittingly, the phrase "direct response" never came up; this is Hollywood, after all. Brands also tended to take a beating for how slow they've been shifting budgets online, tapping into emerging media, and getting with this digital age. While it killed the conversation, I took a moment to applaud brands for how quickly many of them have been moving when you consider how rapidly everything has been changing.

Not all brands are adapting gracefully; just springing for a fancy profile on MySpace doesn't make one a social media marketer by any real measure. There are also inherent obstacles the clients face internally, such as siloed approaches to marketing, and some marketers are better at tackling these challenges than the rest of their peers. As for those silos, Brad Davis of Disney Online summed it up best: "Welcome to traditional media."

Measurement: Every panelist stressed the importance of measurement, with some discussing the role of analytics and reporting as part of that. In fact, measurement was a far more frequent topic of conversation than targeting, engagement, integration, optimization (by my count, mentions of measurement outnumbered all those other topics combined). Efficiency and ROI were also brought up repeatedly. I'm not sure how much of anything new was said in this regard; generally, remarks stuck to the theme of digital media being held to a much higher standard than traditional media -- and not living up to that standard.

While most marketers can improve the way they measure online media, just as pressing is the need to devise better ways to measure the impact of online media on offline events. Marketers in Hollywood, for instance, want to know how much a paid search campaign powers box office performance opening weekend or first-week DVD sales. For an even better challenge, what about finding out how much incremental business was spurred by an online ad campaign?

Google: The leading search engine didn't come out all that well in Hollywood, mostly due to privacy concerns, especially in light of the DoubleClick acquisition. Others just feared what Google will do with all its newfound power. One panelist suggested that as Google's dominance grows, more innovation will come from outside of Google, essentially because so many Davids will want to take a shot right between Googoliath's eyes (or its os, perhaps).

That's a great statement for a sound bite, but I wonder how accurate it is. A single powerful entity clearly helps with marketing; Firefox is the anti-Internet Explorer, while the Mac is personified as the cooler, younger, unkempt alternative to the stodgy PC. Still, innovation arises in all markets when there's a major market leader, when there are many strong contenders, and when there's not a market at all. After all, there was no Google -- no single, dominating search engine -- when Google was incorporated in 1998 (in August 1999, Northern Light led with a 16% market share, followed by AltaVista at 15.5%). Lastly, one shouldn't easily discount the innovation coming from Google itself with its recent rollouts such as universal search and 800-GOOG-411 Voice Local Search.

Eight years ago, Google's market share was under 8%, but those rags-to-riches stories can only warm your heart in a two-hour movie. Yet Google got into pole position and stayed there, with no clear competitor in sight for the immediate future, at least for the core business of search. That defies the laws of the Hollywood ending. It's no wonder that, like director Billy Walsh in Sunday's season premiere of "Entourage," Hollywood marketers are looking for someone to write a new third act.

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