Reflections on MediaTech

At the risk of repeating anything Sam may have already said about MediaTech last week, here’s my take on it. With the perspective of a few days under my belt, I can see that the MediaTech 2.006: Where Media And Technology Collide event last Thursday was a pretty damn good event. Rarely do venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and media companies get together in one space and talk the same kind of language. I went to the Guardian’s Changing Media Summit at the beginning of the year and it was clear that most of these industries were still having Wittgenstein-like problems in the way their conversations didn’t really match up. It’s taken people like Channel 4’s Andy Duncan, who talked about Google overtaking TV advertising revenues, to help move the debate along. MediaTech moved the conversation further than most events I’ve been too, not least because you could really get a feeling about which horses the technology world was interested in backing – something which will have a fundamental affect on all media, new and old in the years to come. In other words, if you think social media is going to stop at MySpace you’ve got another thing coming.

(There was also something of an irony in the timing. At the same time as MediaTech was running, Digital Hollywood Europe, a three-day talkfest over at the far-flung London Excel venue, looked like it had a great line-up of people – but you couldn’t escape the feeling that the future of the media and of Hollywood was being decided largely by the technology business, who were meeting elsewhere. I happen to know that a panel on social media, for instance, was poorly attended, despite it being possibly one of the biggest issues facing the media today).

So what was good about MediaTech? (Interest declared: TechCrunch UK&I was a media sponsor) In the main it was the range and heavy-hitting nature of the speakers and panellists. I am as much a fan of Beers and Innovation as the next man, but it’s going to be tough to get a really senior, management-level person from Google or Yahoo! to sit on a bar stool at those kinds of events (leaving aside all the arguments about why they should do it). It was also excellent to get so many of the venture capitalists together in one place to really try and get under the skin of what they are thinking about. In some cases, Nic Brisbourne of Esprit Capital Partners being a laudable example, they actually blog about it as well. It was also excellent to see some real entrepreneurs engage in conversations both with media people like myself and with the money people. It really did feel that, at last, we had an event approaching something like the kind of ‘mashup of people’ that Silicon Valley is able to reproduce at the drop of a hat.

If there were criticisms, there were but a few. I agree with Sam in that although the ability to ask the panels questions via anonymous text message worked well at first – especially when Doug Richard or a panel host used some of the more controversial ones – by the end of the day, the sheer lack of visible and audible audience interaction had rather killed the potential for a more atmospheric, muscular debate. Technology is great for interaction, but too much of it is silent, and not translated into meatspace – kind’ve important for a live event. Some of the moderators relied too heavily on the system, which would have been better employed to just ask the ‘difficult’ questions no-one would normally own up to. Instead, they often shied-away from these.

There is also the criticism that some speakers treated event attendees like raw-recruits with dumb slides about ‘convergence’. The worst offender in this was the Microsoft representative. The one who shone through because he used no slides and actually said interesting things was Michael Bayler of The Digital Rights Marketing Company who said the new choke hold for media consumption is the consumers head, so media is really now about competing for consumer attention.

Another criticism was cost. At £400 a ticket, coming to MediaTech was really only going to be for the well-funded, and that would potentially not include the entrepreneurs it was largely aimed at. As Umair Haque put it to me over the drinks in the evening: “I could name ten outfits who couldn’t afford the entry fee but would blow these suits away.” (And that was the polite version). Granted, I later found out – after speaking to some of the startups who featured in the showcase panel – that many of them had in fact got in the door via a nominal £95 fee. This is much better, but since it was not advertised prior to the event, there are plenty of firms who would have glanced at the event’s details and then just gone elsewhere wthout realising they could have probably afforded to come. In Library House’s defence, they did open up the evening drinks event to all comers – but this left some late arrivals – like Paul Birch from Co-Minded – without a name badge, a standing around wondering how they fitted into the scheme of things.

True Silicon Valley events are less concerned about status and ‘closed doors’ and this is something we still have to get over in the UK. As Google’s Chris Saccca put it, quite eloquently, at the Silicon Valley Meets Oxford event I blogged three weeks ago, “In the last 5 hours I have been asked more times which school I went to than in the last five years working in Silicon Valley.”

Outside of that, other feedback on the event included The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss:

“I’ve been listening to an extremely well-attended session focusing on the strategies that investors and big new media companies are pursuing. There’s some real insight here and Google, Yahoo and a couple of investment companies are speaking.”

Techdigest (in a break form its gadget blogging) was also suitable impressed with the event.

As was Nic Brisbourne of Esprit Capital Partners who blogged:

“It was buzzy – London feels like a good place to be an entrepreneur right now and events like this are an important part of the mix”

And Ewan McIntosh did some great blogging of the event over at EduBlogs.

Lastly, I have a lot more notes from MediaTech which which should come out in one form or another – some of them exclusive stories – over the next few days…