Q&A With Venture Capitalist Powerhouse Eric Hippeau on the Future of Digital Media

Hippeau assesses the state of the industry

"It's clear now that the future is digital."
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Eric Hippeau has been riding the media wave for almost three decades—from running Ziff Davis throughout the 1990s to serving as the chief executive of the Huffington Post during its 2011 sale to AOL.

Since then, Hippeau has served as managing director at Lerer Hippeau Ventures, the venture capital company whose fingerprints are all over the digital media landscape. As an early stage investor to digital media companies like BuzzFeed, NowThis (Hippeau is also a co-founder of NowThis), Warby Parker, Axios, Casper, Giphy, Mic, Percolate and others, Lerer Hippeau has arguably had more influence in shaping the realities of “new” media than any other company. In effect, his role is to bet on the future of media and advertising.

Adweek recently visited Hippeau in his lofty SoHo office to talk about the current state of media, where it’s heading, and how tech plays a vital role in the decisions the industry makes.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Adweek: It seems we’re at an inflection point in the media, one being led by rapid advancement of technology. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a time for media to not repeat the mistakes of the past. Is that an accurate assessment?

Hippeau: That makes sense; I guess what you’re saying is it’s time for these companies to fully embrace all the tools that are available. That wasn’t clear before. It’s clear now that the future is digital. And so [it’s important to be] all-in—and “all-in” means that you have to restructure your operations very differently.

Adweek: So for restructuring operations, you go from HuffPost’s SEO magic to BuzzFeed’s distributed content. What’s next?

Hippeau: [Next is the] concept of channels—that there is a concentration of content that you are particularly in tune with but is still within the platform. You don’t have to leave the platform. I think that’s that’s a very positive evolution. I think the Discover section in Snapchat is actually quite [good]. Snapchat made the decision not to give you third party content in your feed. You actually have to go. I actually think that’s pretty smart because it means that I have made a conscious decision to go to CNN on the Discover platform.

Adweek: SEO strategy and social distribution strategy is replicable from media company to media company; channel discovery doesn’t seem to be as an opportunity to be as pervasive.

Hippeau: Well, it’s not that it gives you this massive distribution, but it’s going to give you a committed audience, which is really what media has always been about. I remember when I used to publish [at Ziff Davis] and we had like 20 different computer magazines. People would say to me, “How is it possible?” and I said it’s because you pick up a magazine and it either attracts or rejects you until you find the right thing. And those audiences will be, by definition, smaller than the mass, right? But they will be a very valuable audience for advertising.

Adweek: Do you think this evolution works for publications like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal? Media companies already have channels; they’re beats.

Hippeau: So those are the traditional ways to cut those channels. I don’t know the answer to that. I think in some cases, like news, like when you hear these surveys a majority of people now read their news or find their news on Facebook, you say, ‘what news are they finding on Facebook?’ What do they mean by news? But in the morning, I want to see the digital edition of The New York Times. So whatever platform I’m on, either I’m going to news or specifically go to The New York Times. But unfortunately, The New York Times doesn’t have that strategy, so I can’t find The New York Times in a comprehensive way on Facebook. I can’t. It’s not really updated. It doesn’t give me the news.

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