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A Discussion at the Hamptons Institute, July 16, 2011
Presented by Guild Hall in Collaboration with the Roosevelt Institute


Televised on CSPAN and available online at YouTube, this conversation  between new media leaders includes some worthy perceptions and conclusions about the long arc of digital technology. The forum’s focus delves into how consumers and brands are connecting through new platforms and looks at what may be next in digital media.

In discussion are Christine Cook, SVP Advertising Sales of The Daily, David Steward, President and COO of 20×200/Jen Bekman Projects, Michael Kelley, Chief Marketing Officer of AdGenesis, Anthony Risicotto, General Manager, Tremor Media and moderator Michael Gutkowski of Hearst Corporation.  Each of these panelists has invested more than a decade as executives in key technology roles for multiple corporations—each are contributing innovations and tools that are advancing the digital conversation.

Panelists have come together at the Long Island Summer Colony of The Hamptons with the shared perception that digital is evolving, and that this evolution is occurring over a long continuum, through time. After rapid growth, we have arrived at the age of digital curation. Curation indicates selectivity, discrimination and the understanding of right-matching tools for tasks. Curation presents new opportunities for social change and economic growth.

Michael Gutkowski, President & General Manager of LMK Mobile at The Hearst Corporation, starts the conversation off by noting that there are currently 750 million people are on Facebook. For perspective, if this were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world. While the positive impacts sail on, Gutkowski voices concern that there is a lack of understanding of Facebook’s privacy policies in general, and specifically how often the policies change. For instance, Facebook has permissions to use your photos for ads in other places. (As a Facebook user, when the policies change, users by default, agree.) The conversation repeatedly returned to the need for education concerning technology impacts, especially where privacy and right-matching messages to intended audiences really matters—as in that post from a bar that may cost you the next promotion, or worse.

Michael Kelley, CMO of Adgenesis, previously a partner of Pricewaterhouse-Coopers’s digital media practice, has his eye on what the tweens and teens in his family are up to. Kelley is interested in teaching appropriate behavior and protecting privacy with new policies, including family networking protections, not unlike the tiered freedoms given to new drivers. Kelley’s point being that young people are engaging in social media without awareness or education on consequences–both in circles of friends and the workplace–

“Old laws are being broken in new ways.” —Michael Kelley, AdGenesis

On the business side, AdGenesis is designing new ways to acquire  information about users, looking not at what users have purchased already (think Amazon), but what they would like to purchase in the future. Currently 99.5% of banner ads do not receive click-throughs. According to Kelley, AdGenesis is getting about an 11% click-through rate in their customized programs. Kelley suggests that for people who care about content, this is really important as it points the way to successful financial business models for emerging technologies and the opportunity to stimulate the economy with new revenue streams.

David Steward’s leadership in managing multiple digital offerings includes past tenure as CEO of F+W Media, a $200M private-equity backed niche consumer media company. Steward was also instrumental in building/ redeveloping three of America’s top media brands: People Magazine, Martha Stewart Living and TV Guide. As  President / COO of 20×200 he has a broadly stated  goal of bringing art down to affordable prices, with integrated services, brands and marketing [at 20×200.com]. Steward’s efforts include leveraging authentic word of mouth marketing and viral distribution. Like other panelists, Steward sees Google+ as much more reflective of the way we live than Facebook—what we discuss to our friends, family and workplace are differentiated. Facebook doesn’t really mirror the way we speak to others because at Facebook, we talk to everyone in the same way. As humans, this isn’t typical of our lives. What remains to be seen is whether Google+ can reach the critical mass Facebook has at the moment.

Christine Cook held a front row seat at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, as SVP Digital Sales—arguably one of the fastest growing mash-ups of media, consumer marketing, and products fueled by technology. Today she is SVP for  Rupert Murdoch’s ‘The Daily,’ a news publication created expressly for the iPad, launched in February 2011. Cook sees Google + as leading forward by communicating with select audiences. In her view, Google has a long history of being successful with sophisticated technology underpinnings. As for digital media in general Cook feels there is a mixture of beautiful, automated communication, but enough care is not being taken to address the stumbling blocks. The core technologies are evolving so quickly, it is an exciting time, but is also a time when users are particularly exposed.

Beyond this, Cook points out that an increasingly digital world, means having a world that is no longer is dependent on shrinking environmental resources—information is stored in the Cloud, news does not require trees for paper or trucks to deliver physical goods. There was  fear at one time was that TV would displace books, but in fact books are being read more and are actually now more accessible due to digital.

Anthony Risicotto brings his background with multiple media and video brands to Tremor Media, the largest independent online video advertising company. To his eye, the way we consume media has changed: there is distinct flattening of the manner in which we communicate, because messages are treated as equally important. But as fascinating is observing the radical changes in how the human tribe collects information—it is how we now consume media that captivates Risicotto. We are not clustered around the television watching news, but are harvesting information in all sorts of individual ways, continuously, from our smartphones, to billboards, to the side of a coffee cup. The next 10 years will be a tremendous sea change as information sharing and acquisition changes the social moirés of human communication.

During the Q&A, a member of the audience observed that with all the many benefits of digital media, there are significant trade-offs, including limiting the relationship to self; relationship to others and relationship to nature. When engaged with technology one is no longer alone with one’s thoughts and feelings. Virtual exchanges can displace actual, direct relationships in time and space (think of being in a restaurant where friends are all on their smartphones—not with each other fully). The termnature deficit disorder’ is starting to be used  to describe what we miss in the natural world while constantly engaged with technology.

There are many conversations occurring constantly about digital media, almost all somewhat glibly discuss the remarkable progress, successes and excitement of finding new ways to relate to each other and the world. Few seem as clear-eyed and willing to frankly address the mixed gains and losses as this collective think tank hosted at The Hamptons.

About Pamela Biery

Pamela Biery is a freelance writer and communications professional living in Seattle. She has no affiliation with any person or company mentioned in this blog post.