By Steve McClellan
An Advertising Week session on Wednesday focusing on the future of media, produced by Mediapost and moderated by Wired editor Chris Anderson, quickly evolved (or devolved) into a battle of the quipsters. Digital impresario Mark Cuban (shown here) got things rolling as he made his case that media companies that give away their content for free will be losers in the long run. Offer a sample to hook consumers, and then upgrade them to subscriber status, he argued, adding that it's technique that "drug dealers have been using for years."
Asked later in the session why he thought live sporting events and venues would remain viable as a new generation of home-entertainment devices offer better-quality viewing experiences—without the hassle and expense of attending in person—Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks, replied that sports venues offer an outlet to "scream and yell and jump up and down. You can't do that anywhere else." Without missing a beat, Rob Norman, CEO at WPP's GroupM Interaction responded, "Obviously you've never been to one of our budget meetings."
When the subject of the separation of journalism and advertising came up, Advertising Age critic Bob Garfield said the "cathedral" of journalism has become "a brothel and is rapidly heading toward Plato's Retreat." The comment drew laughs and a little push-back from other panelists. National Public Radio's Vivian Schiller said audiences are smart enough to "smell a rat," while most respectable news organizations don't blur the line.
Norman said he didn't have a sense that marketers want to inappropriately mesh content with advertising but noted that many clients seek "branded or brand-sponsored content" that is "clearly identified" as such.
Meanwhile, Cuban offered the theory that people can be classified as belonging to one of three groups in the digital era—innovators, imitators and idiots. You know who you are, and if you don't, he said, "you're in denial."
As for the future of media? Who knows. But judging from the laughs and applause, the session's audience was clearly entertained.