A meeting of media minds in Manchester

By Karuna Kumar

“We’ve gathered here to examine the changing media landscape and address the creative and commercial challenges we face, along with opportunities to develop new partnerships and collaborations,” is how Media Festival 2010 Director Louise Benson kicked off the third annual event in Manchester on the 17th of November.

In the opening address, Festival chair, Julie Meyer, CEO of Ariadne Capital welcomed attendees with an interesting perspective for multinational companies:

“The opportunity really is in how we create high growth firms which break through and become global leaders. As an investment firm, we look out for companies that have a couple of winning characteristics. First of all – a lean operating model with low fixed costs; their inputs should match outputs and they should be using technology and finance cleverly.

“We see ecosystem economics at play. The companies that are winning understand their place in the ecosystem and they are able to architect the most inclusive business model for the sector.”

Following the opening keynote was a panel discussion chaired by Krishnan Guru Murthy, prominent anchor of Channel 4. Making up the panel was Feargal Sharkey, CEO, UK music; Nick Rind,CEO, CTI Digital; Dave Bird, Manchester Metropolitan University Business School; Paul Clennell, Chief Technology Officer, Media City UK and Julie Meyer.

One of the questions that got the panel talking was, “Is there any point having a government strategy for creative industries?”

Sharkey’s response was particularly thoughtful. “You could say the exactly same argument for any other bit of the economy. The basic fact of life is we want to ensure that any or every young creative person in the UK is getting every bit of support and opportunity they can.”

Other topics that were highlighted through the course of the discussion were funding for the creative entrepreneur, the successes and failures of local television, the business of content creation and the skepticism of the media entrepreneur.

Day Two

The second day of the conference opened with an enlightening session presented by Andy Cameron, Interactive Creative Director at Weiden + Kennedy, speaking about ‘Content for the future’.

In his address, Cameron stressed how the online platform has revolutionized the way we create content. When acknowledging the smartphone sector, Cameron said, “In a couple of years, there are going to be more smartphones accessing the internet than desktop and notebook PCs put together. That’s a big deal. That changes the game for all of us.”

Looking at future trends in market share across various smartphone operating systems, Cameron stated that the two big players are going to be Symbian or Nokia and Android, holding Apple as an exception that has made big profits despite a relatively small market share. Cameron emphasized the importance of  creating content that fits into this changing trend, referring specifically to apps.

“Let’s end up with a vision of the future where apps move off the mobile device and become pervasive, ubiquitous, where they move into all kinds of other devices in our lives.”

Cameron’s keynote was followed by a panel discussion on ‘The gamification of everything’ and “What’s next in Global TV?’.

While the former elaborated on the prominence of interactive games and the current burgeoning gaming industry, the latter took a look at the future of TV and how it interplays with online content. On the distinguished panel were Peter Smith, President, NBC Universal; David Booth, Vice President Programming, MTV networks; Dan Korn, SVP Head of Programmes, Discovery Networks Europe. The discussion was moderated by Alex Connock, CEO of Ten Alps.

Booth started off the discussion explaining the kind of journey MTV international has encountered over the last 12 -15 months:

“We’re at the tail end of a brand equity study whereby we are really trying to understand what it means to be a teenager in a modern society and what we’ve found is that our audience is completely different from what it was when we grew up. They don’t necessarily rebel. They rebel but they rebel against pessimism. They’re very positive in their attitude.”

Smith offered, “We think there is a swing back to scripted drama. Programming that really cuts through the clutter. One of the other things we’re going to do is move into reality.”

“At Discovery we are lucky – we’ve got very strong factual franchises which work globally. Alongside those franchises, I think what we’ve tried to do is have a series of real scale. The interesting thing about Discovery is we’ve got this wonderful factual brand but actually in entertainment we’ve not had the same amount of success. Two other trends which I think are interesting are the observational, classic documentary and growth in the news category,” Korn pointed out.

The panel went on to discuss online strategy and the mobile phone strategy for films.

Other discussions that followed through the day delved into understanding  the flexible media company of the future; exploring the business models of digital publishing; multi-platform storytelling and commissioning.

Day Three

The third day of the festival began with a keynote address by Richard Halton,  Chief Executive of YouView.

“Content really is the secret of success for any platform that has those two magical letters, TV, in them and I think the vision that we have for YouView is very much a content centric one.

“For content providers, YouView is there to provide a really simple environment, technically, to allow people to publish content and earn revenue from it. For ISPs, it’s the opportunity to convince customers that they really should have bought a 50 meg broadband connection all along and for consumer electronics manufacturers, we’re developing a really simple set of standards, for them to follow, to make a set-top box and retail into the market, which is exactly the same model that’s followed today, to make Freeview devices for UK homes,” Halton explained.

A valuable three days

All in all, the media festival was instrumental in igniting curious minds with sparks of insight about the past and foresight for the future – defining a sense of direction for the present.

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