As some people out there know, I attended the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in Chicago with my colleague, Mike Ferrara. Our presence at IRCE lasted from Monday, June 9 through Wednesday, June 11th. Since our focus as first-time exhibitors was the exhibit hall (go figure, right), my summary is nothing more than a series of observations from the exhibit hall. This may help others who are considering attending the IRCE next year.
1. In walking the show floor during the set-up stage, I noticed there are a lot of great innovators and companies focused on fraud protection, as well as managing retail supply chains and the transactions process. There also were companies that specialized in developing RSS feeds for retailers and blogging platforms (I thought this was interesting b/c I wonder about how many online retailers and their customers use RSS), content aggregators, international shipping companies, distribution warehouses and more. On the whole, an impressive array of companies that fit both the virtual and tangible worlds of online retailing. At this point, I have a long list of companies I want to meet with during the show.
2. Day 1 is short (only about 3 hours), but not without a lot of buzz at our booth. Mike Ferrara and I rolled in early to get set up, and by 4:00 pm (Central) the exhibit hall is filled with people getting ready for the kick-off. The demo application we have runs perfectly (kudos to Tommy Buono @ ActiveAccess for getting it built). I’ve download a flash demo, but people are more interested in seeing the live product – that really draws them in. Our initial conversations go very well, and we alternate walking the show a little bit to see other companies. Ferrara has some meetings scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, and after Day 1, we’ve got even more.
3. Now, into Day 2 (Tuesday, June 10, 2008), I’ve had a chance to talk with a few people on my list, and was surprised to discover how many other companies were first-time exhibitors, like ourselves. The impression of these companies, as well as our own thus far, has been fairly positive. Traffic to everyone’s booth has been steady and the overall number of business contacts high. But, one person I spoke with perhaps said it best, “We’ll know more in two weeks when the free trials of our software end.”
4. One quick thing I will note – as with all shows, only those with the right access can enter break-out sessions. This is a common practice. But with that said, I think that security for these sessions, on average, has not been oppressive – allowing a few people to come in and out to hear different speakers regardless of their badge. I don’t think this is bad thing – though the folks at IRCE might disagree. However, while session security was mild, security around the cookie and brownie trays throughout the exhibit hall was tighter than that found at most US nuclear weapons facilities. When they say, “The cookies will be available at 1:30” they really mean 1:30… Those of us itching to grab a quick, early snack, were forced to wait.
5. After 4 pm on Day 2 and I must compliment the staff with the IRCE. They have done an excellent job organizing events, managing break-out sessions and how people filter in and out of the exhibition hall. Strategic placements of food stations and other services has helped with the traffic flow. We know based on the schedule when there may be a slight let-off in floor traffic, which gives Mike and I a chance to meet with folks and explore the hall. Our opportunities do not last terribly long, but then again, today is a long day. We start at 9 am and run until almost 7 pm.
6. Closing thoughts on Day 2 – integration is major conversation piece with the people who stop by. We’ve had quite a few prospects who want to integrate a database with the ActiveAccess desktop system, so that end-users receive very targeted, account-specific information, instead of just our usual content and video. Other conversations hinted that multiple language offerings may be necessary as well. Certainly, we can see this coming. Technology is evolving, and widgets and desktop applications need to become more robust if they are to continue to survive. Of course, ActiveAccess has done some level of integration with other clients in the past, so we’re well-positioned. These new cases are very exciting though…
7. Day 3 (Wednesday, June 11th, 2008), and Mike and I are prepared for another long day (9 am to 4 pm). We had a disappointing evening (the Celtics lost to the Lakers), but our activity at IRCE has not slowed. Another steady flow of major corporations, including traditional discount stores / retailers come by and some large online retailers. I wish I could drop some names, but we all know that would not be right! Other companies we spoke with yesterday also have more questions, so they bring their teams with them. Interest is very high. Towards the end of the show I met with a company that specializes in helping spread products and data via word of mouth. The company representative I spoke with mentions they have a free API that can work within the ActiveAccess solution and really enhance the “share with a friend” feature. Very cool…
8. Closing out Day 3, Mike and I are headed out, as the show has just closed. High-fives are exchanged… On the whole, speaking from my personal perspective and the notes I took, the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition was a excellent success for ActiveAccess. Obviously, we need to wait several weeks to see exactly how much of a success, but I think the meetings Mike and I had, both at the booth and throughout the exhibit hall, were very positive.
Geoff Livingston’s tweet this morning focused my attention on a post by Sarah Perez entitled, “Content is Becoming a Commodity.” Geoff’s tweet said that he could not disagree more with the post, so that drew my immediate interest. I’ve known Geoff Livingston over the years (click here to read his blog, The Buzz Bin), and lately, he has become something of a legend in the social media space. Even though we don’t agree on everything (occasionally I can be wrong), I do value his opinion and enjoy working with him.
So, in thinking about Geoff’s comment, I sat down to read Sarah Perez’s post.
In reading Sarah Perez’s post, my initial reaction was that a lot of what she was writing about was not new. The discussion of content as a commodity has been around, as one comment put it, since before the copy machine was invented and placed into libraries. However, “Is my content a commodity?” is still apparently an issue. Can you leverage your blog entries for profit, or is there a more invaluable or incalculable aspect to content?
My reaction to Sarah’s post are as follows:
1) Many people in the tech and social media spaces are very focused (some jubilant) on becoming more viral and open through technology, blogs, etc. I recognize there are complaints whenever a company aggregates a blogger’s content. However, I often find that these are the same folks who complain about the recording industry’s assault on those who illegally download music. To put it simply, you can’t split the baby on this issue, folks. In my view, there is a definitive line between intellectual property and self-promotion, but too often we blur that line for our own immediate gratification. Perez is right, in a sense, that the loss of “physical form” plays a roll in the justification of stealing, but as we blog, produce video and other types of content, we need to give some thought as a society to how we protect what needs to be protected.
2) Perez’s comment about how individually produced content has less of a value, but “in aggregate, can become something of value” has merit. ActiveAccess, a division of the company I work for, is a producer of a communications platform, a super-widget if you will. We’ve traditionally worked on widgets for clients, ie, radio stations, colleges and universities. We have a new project on the front-burner that is for a consumer market segment – a direct to consumer application. It’s on the horizon (check back in early May), but one of our beliefs is that by coupling content together (RSS, etc) and establishing content partners, we can help build a portal for a community. The idea on our end though is two-fold… a) consolidate content and services into one place for the consumer / reader; and b) establish a revenue-sharing platform for content providers, ie bloggers, which should help expand their brand recognition and value.
3) Perez writes about NBC’s Jerry Zucker railing against Apple. This is an amusing quote, but broadcast media has distinct advantages over new media that often gets overlooked – ironically enough – by people in broadcast media. New media is certainly younger, faster and more agile in some respects, but in others – it lacks establishment, audience, capital and other benefits. Rick Ducey (BIAfn) commented on this to an extent (see Rick’s blog post at: http://blog.bia.com/bia/?p=26). Rick is at the 2008 NAB Show, and believe me, broadcasters are intensely focused on social media, networks like Facebook, YouTube, etc. If you’re interested in NAB – you can follow their blog at: http://www.NABShow.com/blog. They also have a Twitter feed that you can track. It’s a great place to read about technology, media and other topics bloggers are interested in.
4) So, how do these two differing perspectives (one often associated with those in broadcast media and the other with those in new media) translate for bloggers in particular? Well, while you can’t stop being viral or promoting yourself, you also have to examine how your intellectual property – because that’s what we are talking about here – may be valued or better utilized elsewhere. If you are concerned about it being lifted and think that is going to happen, which certainly is taking place, one method is to seek out the established forces and team-up. Certainly, some people view Apple as a corrosive force, but people used to think of that way about Sears. Everyone feared the end of “Mom and Pop” stores. Then along came Wal-Mart, and the same fears were echoed again and again. Of course, we still have “Mom and Pop” stores. The point is that successful businesses learn from their landscape and find a way to either do something no one else is doing or they find a way to do it better. The same is true for bloggers.
5) Last thought, the idea of a blog as a “destination” is a good point. I did not read the post from Mark Evans that Perez references (you can click here to read it if you want), but it sounds accurate. Essentially, this comes back to what I wrote in point 4 – you need to take more ownership of your material and know the marketplace. Of course, if you don’t consider your content a commodity that you want to protect and profit from – that’s a whole other issue. But if you do, then you need to treat it like any other business asset.
We’ve known for some time that the number of people viewing online video is on the rise. With the expansion of broadband and high speed internet access, more people finally have the bandwidth to support video downloads. But where do we really stand?
In 2006, the number of Americans between the ages of 12 and 64 that viewed online video content every day was 9 percent. This year however, that number has grown to 14 percent and could end up being higher. Frequency of viewing online video also is on the rise. Last year, 44 percent of 12 to 64 year-olds watched video online at least once a week. This year – that number is up to 52 percent.
YouTube is driving much of the rise in online video consumption with 20 million or more viewers per month watching over 100 million video clips per day (Let’s just not forget there are numerous providers of video content, including Yahoo!). Though YouTube and others provide some news content, they traditionally reach audiences interested in viewing comedy and what some may call “fringe” or alternative content (like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, which has reemerged as a cult favorite online), as well as those posting personalized content as opposed to news and special interest stories – a backbone of most television programming.
In point of fact, research demonstrates that the most popular video downloads on the Internet are news and special interest stories, with comedy, television programming, movie clips / previews, and weather the next most popular selections.
This means that the interests of Americans who view video online plays directly into the strengths of television stations, which have access to video content that they produce, as well as the ability to offer network and audience produced content that may not normally be aired in regular programming cycles.
Another facet to the trend of people viewing video online includes the growth of people who are online while they watch television. According to a study conducted by the Solutions Research Group (highlighted in a recent Time magazine article), 37 percent of the US population over the age of 12 use their computers while they watch television. This means that close to 100 million Americans are multitasking – shifting between watching television and online computer use. Other research shows that the longer people use the Internet (in numbers of years they have been online), the more their television viewing decreased. Though the time spent online per day remains less than total time watching television, such a trend represents viewers lost from television stations’ over the air service, but in fact they could be recaptured with on-demand and download Internet based services delivered to the computer.
One way to both maximize the trend towards online video viewership and combat declining market share and audience is to implement a desktop application or widget to deliver video and other programming directly to the computer desktop. Desktop applications and widgets are particularly effective in driving viewers to a station’s website, because they offer one click access to any portion of a website. Desktop applications reside on the computer desktop of a specific viewer giving a television station the ability to stream video and audio content directly to the desktop, as well as alert messages, RSS feeds, weather, and other forms of content. This has the effect of creating a communication bridge between the station and the viewer whenever the viewer is online.Once the communication bridge has been established, a desktop application or widget can then drive viewers back to a station’s website for additional breaking news, severe weather bulletins, school closings, community updates or contest and promotional information.
Given the growth of online video consumption by Americans, the growing trend of multitasking between television and online viewership, and the possible decline in television viewing in favor of Internet use, television stations have the opportunity to enhance their online presence by delivering interactive content through desktop applications that also help to funnel these viewers back to their websites. This is where ActiveAccess and BIA can be a tremendous help.