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Speakers at the 11th annual DeSilva+Phillips Dealmakers Summit this month in Manhattan were bullish about prospects for this year.
“The deal market for media is characterized by renewed confidence and focus,” Daniel McCarthy, a partner in the New York-based media investment bank, said in his overview of trends and opportunities.
McCarthy said digital is the main driver behind the increased dealmaking. “Anything that can go digital will go digital, and end users will pay for quality, relevance and usability,” he said.
Robert Thomson, who in December was named CEO of News Corp.'s new publishing entity, also expressed optimism about this year and urged media companies to focus more on innovation. “The problem is we've been a little too focused on the threats and not enough on the opportunities,” he said. “What we should be doing is almost reverse engineering it—the cleverness, the originality, the utility of those new techniques.”
Thomson spoke of News Corp.'s effort to break through in tablet publishing with The Daily, which folded last year after losing at least $40 million over two years.
“It was actually a great success in most respects, revenue aside,” said Thomson, a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. “The conceptualization of it was brilliant, the delivery,” he said. “We at the Journal learned a lot from it.”
Embracing innovation was a constant theme throughout the daylong conference. One of the panel discussions, “Adapting to Changing Media Platforms,” addressed the issue head-on, with panelists recommending publishers start using programmatic ad buying and consider how to use second screens creatively.
“We have now hundreds of screens. So we have to think about context,” said Paul Bascobert, COO of Bloomberg Media. “It's different to sit at a desk at home than a desk at work, than in front of a TV screen.”
Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBCUniversal Inc., spoke of the rising use of second, third and fourth screens, citing last year's Summer Olympics as “the gold standard of multiplatform content distribution.” He said the 17-day event attracted 217 million TV viewers and 82 million digital users; NBC's research showed that those who watched on more than one screen spent more time viewing the games than those who only followed the action on one screen.
“The media today is not about losing one media when you gain another media,” Wurtzel said. “There is no cannibalization.”
In the final panel discussion, “How Major Publishers Are Transforming Their Businesses,” top executives from American Express Publishing, Centaur Media and Penton Media discussed the challenges of shifting from print to digital.
“What we have to do is all about change, and I think it starts with talent and mind-set,” said David Kieselstein, CEO of Penton. “Everyone has to embrace it. The amount of opportunity that is out there from technology is staggering.”