Highlights From Adweek’s NexTech @DCNF

Topics included future of TV, state of Web publishing, naps at AOL

Arianna Huffington talked about reducing stress, getting more sleep and the problem with men. Greg Rivera of Xbox Advertising talked about a not-so-far-away future when kids will get to star in Sesame Street episodes. Video startups battled for free Adweek ad space. Hearst Magazines president David Carey talked about his fear of speedboats.

Indeed, some of the biggest names in digital (and traditional) media gathered in New York on Tuesday at Adweek’s inaugural NexTech, part of the weeks-long Digital Content NewFront agenda. All in all, the day provided thoughtful discussion, debate and even some news. Here are some highlights:

  • Huffington kicked off the day with a fun, wide-ranging keynote address. Regarding the company’s planned tablet-only magazine, Huffington, she said, "It will help you get away from the hurly-burly, even the hurly-burly of the Huffington Post. We publish 1,500 stories a day, and you are naturally going to miss some gems. We’ll put [Huffpo stories] in a gorgeous setting….It’s about getting away from the one-night stand…and instead letting you lounge in bed.”
  • Speaking of bed, Huffington said that since adding two Napquest rooms at AOL, demand is so high she’s considering adding a third.
  • Huffington also opined on the media’s tendency to “fetishize social media” (despite the fact that HuffPo is often looked at as the poster child for social publishing) and men's lack of strong leadership savvy. "If I can talk to the men for a second," she said, "I think you've gotten leadership all wrong."
  • Opinions on the spate of digital NewFront presentations of late were varied, but mostly positive. Said Donnie Williams, chief digital officer at Horizon: “I think we’ve already seen this time period as successful.” Added ESPN’s evp of multimedia sales Eric Johnson: “To measure it on the quantity of dollars that go down is the wrong way to look at it.”
  • Johnson also expressed frustration with the lingering criticism over the need for digital upfronts, given the perceived lack of scarcity in Web video. He received some support from Vevo CEO Rio Caraeff. “Not all video views are equal,” Caraeff said. “There’s actually a shortage of premium online video today. We’re seeing brands that spent $500,000 in our first month are now spending $5 million.” Caraeff also hinted at more long-form Vevo programming as more users start accessing the service on TV. Plus, some sort of subscription model could also be in the works.
  • Competing before a panel of judges that included Alan Murray, partner at Coriolis and Warren Lee of Canaan Partners, Condition ONE won the NexTech video startup battle, taking home $50,000 worth of Adweek ad space.
  • Greg Rivera of Xbox LIVE Advertising provided several "wow" moments during a keynote presentation on the future of TV, including a demo of a Kinect-enabled Sesame Street program due to launch this fall—which will allow kids to interact directly with Elmo and friends on their TV screens. Rivera also relayed some details on plans to incorporate Nielsen watermarks within XBox LIVE. “You’ll see us deliver traditional TV metrics soon,” he said.
  • Daniel Blackman, chief digital officer at The Daily Beast, spoke about the site’s plans for an iPad edition, as well as its success with attracting readers via tablet readers like Flipboard, Zite and, perhaps surprisingly, Google Current. “They’re a bit of a sleeper,” he said. “But they’re generating real numbers.” Specifically, the Beast claims 1.3 million users from Current and 2 million for all third-party tablet platforms.
  • The Beast’s iPad app, which the company will submit to Apple soon, will be "more of a reconception of the Daily Beast for tablet" than a magazine, he said.
  • A group of leading Web publishers shared their thoughts on how to become better social publishers. "I tell my editorial team, don't chase pageviews. Just chase cool shit,” said Josh Topolsky, co-founder of The Verge. “The bar is higher,” added BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti. “You have to create better content. It will cause publishers to raise their game.” “Facebook is the best thing to happen to publishers since Yahoo started picking cool site of the day in 1994,” said Ben Elowitz, CEO of Wetpaint. “We engage with our Facebook readers 40 times a month. You can’t do that on open Web or in Google. Facebook’s actually underpenetrated for publishers.”
  • Hearst Magazines president David Carey closed the day by shedding some light on the mobile opportunities he sees for the company and the lack of insight it has into YouTube. For example, a third of Hearst’s tablet-edition sales are for back issues. Meanwhile, last year, just 3 percent of Hearst’s Web traffic came from mobile devices. Today it’s 16 percent, and Carey expects that to double again next year. Regarding Hearst’s three new YouTube channels, Carey’s in the dark as to how Google will market them. “I’m waiting to see the overall promotional plan from Google. My dream is that you’ll see a program lineup on YouTube. I’m not quite sure that’s coming soon. They have to make it easy to find.”
  • Carey also mentioned the company's native-tablet app, Cosmo for Men, as only costing the company a few hundred thousand dollars. He said to expect more such low-risk initiatives, as the company must take risks while still operating within a large corporate structure. "We're like a battleship, and we're facing all these [digital] speedboats," he said.
  • Other quotable NexTech moments:

“No amount of technology can make content good. But technology can make good content great."—Kristin Frank, gm of digital media, MTV/VH1

“The established economics of the TV industry is holding back the future of TV, not technology."—FreeWheel's svp of revenue and strategy Frans Vermeulen

“The traditional TV market is an incredibly closed ecosystem, and that holds us back.”—Chris Allen, svp, director of video innovation at Starcom.

Wetpaint's Elowitz: "The banner ad's going the way of the dodo bird in a couple years."