Live From Always Up… I Mean Always On

Billed as “Silicon Valley meets Madison Avenue”, today’s AlwaysOn conference in NYC was somewhat reassuring. Attendence was up from previous years and attendees were there to do business – raise money, look for deals, develop partnerships.

A few highlights:

* Ad Networks 3.0: Panelists argued that there remained a huge opportunity, despite investor fatigue in yet another ad network. Elizabeth Blair, CEO of, pointed out that although 30% of direct response advertising dollars had already moved online, only 5% of brand dollars had made the shift, despite consumer reporting that they spend 40% of their time online. That said, there was clamoring for some way to use data to improve CPMs, particularly for non-premium inventory.

* Mobile Advertising: panelists laid out the case for why the iPhone was transformational for mobile advertising and that early trials suggest mobile advertising actually works. That said, they were realistic about the slow growth ahead as mobile works its way into the marketing mix, particularly as a component in cross-platform campaigns.

* Brian Wieser of Magna gave a great keynote, providing overwhelming data to suggest TV isn’t dead yet. “TV dwarfs other media in reach and frequency,” he argued. The data was compelling. For example, 97% of adults 18-49 turn on the television every week, the same as 10 years ago, and viewing hours is actually growing, now standing at 500 billion person hours (side note: who the heck is watching 4 hours of TV / day?? That’s the AVERAGE consumption!). Further, even if online video grows at a rate of 35% (roughly the current rate), TV will still represent 100x more hours in 2011! A sobering view in the world of, as Wieser put it, “Web 2.0%”.

* Online Advertising: Jeff Lanctot, Chief Strategy officer at Razorfish, predicted flat spending, lower CPMs, and argued that the “print dollars turning into digital pennies” simply was not working for publishers. Perhaps massive publisher consolidation will rebalance supply and demand, but unlikely.

* Smartphone: this panel was simply an hour long raving lovefest for the iPhone. Favorite iPhone apps mentioned ranged from the sublime (Amazon, Pandora) to the ridiculous (iFart, iThrow, iFu Kung Fu). Eric Litman, CEO of Medialets, amusingly pointed out that there are 20 million Windows Mobile devices, but application discovery is such an awful experience that the download rates are a fraction of the iPhones.

* VC Outlook: Jonathan Miller (Velocity, ex-CEO AOL), Woody Benson (Prism) and I did a panel on the VC outlook. We tried to provide a balanced view – I think we were all relatively balanced as short-term bears, but long-term bulls. As Woody pointed out, “You can’t do what I do unless you’re an optimist. Otherwise, you’d jump out the window!” 

But the real highlight of the day for me personally was closing the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) – an honor that Tony Perkins was kind enough to make available to me. Lucky for me the market was up today (Tony quipped that he should change the name of the conference to Always Up)!