OnMedia: It’s differenter than you think

I’m at the Always-On OnMedia confab in New York (yes, another conference… life is a conference). I’ll not liveblog it; after DLD and Davos, I’m liveblogged-out. This one is focused on investment and that’s good; that is the mother’s milk of innovation. But I’m frustrated that the people on the stage — as innovative as they are — are still thinking in old media terms on the internet.

They think it’s content. “The perceived economic value of content is approaching zero,” said Drew Lipsher of Greycroft. The reason that people come on the internet is for the content, says Jim Spanfeller of Forbes.com The problem with that, I think, is that the internet is more about connections and relationships — that’s where the core value is and content is a vehicle for that. This is like measuring the value of a car based on how much we like the seat. We don’t value cars because we can sit in them but because they get us somewhere. We’re valuing and measuring the wrong things.

They think it has to be big. Eric Hippeau said that critical mass for advertisers to pay attention is growing from 1 million to 3-5 million users. Jonathan Miller is waiting for a blockbuster hit on the internet that spawns sequels and t-shirt sales. That’s still treating us like a mass. That’s still about lazy advertisers who want to buy upfront and don’t want to converse with us as individuals or at least communities. We need advertisers’ money; that will be the primary support of online media. But we need to both retrain them and give them the infrastructure and data to enable them to market smarter and create meaningful relationships — and, in the process, support small instead of big. Part of that infrastructure is technology to enable better measurement and sales. And part of it is putting together curated networks that do make buying advertising easier.

They think life is neat. We’re still hearing this red herring about advertisers not wanting to be associated with bad things online. Name a brand that has been truly ruined because a banner ad appeared on a porn site. Name one. Oh, yes, there’ve been teapot-tempests — boiled by media — about a banner that ends up on a neonazi page but, c’mon, no consumer is going to assume that the brand is Nazified. The answers to this are first to recognize that life is messy and second to use networks that curate content. The draw of being included in that network and getting its money will be the thing that keeps the content safe. But, hey, advertisers, life is not neat. Shit happens. (Oops. I said shit. I guess the ads on the right will be disappearing.)

They think this is about selling. We’re still hearing about standard ad models and measurements. But someone on the panel pointed to Nike, which is moving away from CPMs and GRPs and heading to providing the infrastructure for communities to do what they want to do. Nike is turning from a manufacturer and marketer of products into a platform.

I don’t mean to say that everyone’s in the past and issue a they-don’t-get-it rant. Indeed, these people get it more than most. I’m just saying that the online life is — pardon me — differenter than we yet realize. The very model of media is only starting to come into focus. We think. We hope.