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SXSW: Day One

We've arrived!

goa has landed in Austin, Texas and we've conquered our 24hrs of the SXSW Festival! It's been tonnes of fun, but really day one at SXSW could be summed up in a word: massive.

Today we went to see speakers from Forbes, Dish, Almighty, Adblock Plus, The Washington Post, Associated Press, MediaPost, Vox, Google and rewardStyle. Here's what they had to say.

We're Not Gonna Take It: Ad Blocking and User Revolt

Speakers:

  • Lewis Dvorkin – Chief Product Officer, Forbes
  • Marjorie Gray – Digital Brand Manager, Dish
  • Ben Williams – Head of Operations, Adblock Plus
  • Rob Griffin (moderator) – Chief Innovation Officer – Almighty
 

In this panel we heard from three speakers with three very different views on Ad Blocking and online ads. With a brand, a publication and an ad blocker in the room discussion, as you can imagine, got pretty lively at times.

Interestingly, the one thing all three participants could agree on was the fact that the online ad industry hasn't developed in the way it should have with clunky, tag-laden display ads severely effecting users’ experience on many sites. Ben from Adblock Plus also acknowledged his product has inherent flaws because of this. He said “Ad Blocking developed as a blunt tool”.

He also said they were whittling the product down from a baseball bat into something more like a scalpel, using their acceptable ad program (note: bigger advertisers have to pay for this). Which prompted this exchange:

Marjorie Gray: “But who gave you the power to decide what is right?”
Ben Williams: “Well, who gave you the Internet?”

Solutions around how to keep publishers profitable were debated – from micropayments to native content. Ultimately it was agreed that we'd most likely see a group of solutions emerge to address the issue, similar to the combination of Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora (etc.) in the music streaming space.

Newsopalypse: Can Digital Really Sustain Media?

Speakers:

  • Jed Hartman - Chief Revenue Officer, The Washington Post
  • Joy Jones - VP of Products, Associated Press
  • Lindsay Nelson - Global Head of Brand Strategy, Vox Media Inc.
  • Joe Mandese (moderator) – Editor-in-Chief, MediaPost

Eroding advertising income, diminishing 'half-lives' of written content and the death of print media - this session had it all in a very frank discussion about the state of modern news media.

Overall, there was a surprising willingness to 'let print go', given that two of the three outlets on the panel have their roots firmly in the format. But the consensus was that the only way to survive was to adapt both the content and the distribution of their medium to stay alive. Jed Hartman summed it up perfectly, saying that:

"If content is King, platform is Queen. You have to be good at both"

So to answer the question posed in the title of the lecture the speakers agreed that yes, digital could sustain news media - but only in a new form in which user-generated content was given a significant role in storytelling and where the user experience was seamless. The panel agreed that this would require a huge shift away from 'broadcast' attitudes and more into a native content-focussed space.

Google Self-Driving Car Project

Speaker: Chris Urmson - Director of Self-Driving Cars, Google Self-Driving Car Project

So this was definitely the coolest session we went to today. Listening to Chris Urmson's speech and watching his presentation was like taking an hour-long leap into the future!

He did an amazing job of explaining all the incredibly complex processes behind the cars, how and why they work (we can confirm - not magic), but all the same we walked away with an overarching feeling of 'but... how?'

Suffice to say we might not make the best software engineers.

We went through the facts - that these cars use a combination of cameras, radar and lasers to 'see', that they can distinguish between people, cars, bikes, trucks and traffic cones, and that unlike a human they can 'shard' their intelligence without losing any effectiveness or attention to detail.

And yes, Chris did cover off that bus incident. He said that they didn't like it, but that they'd learnt from it.

Combine the above features with the hundreds of thousands of hours of testing and these cars are pretty safe. So the answer to everyone's question "will these  cars be ready in 3 years or 30?" is - both. Chris informed us all that it would be completely dependant on the laws where we lived and that regardless, this tech would mostly likely be launched in phases.


Digital Marketing in the Age of Influencers

Speaker: Amber Venz Box - Co-Founder and President, rewardStyle

We were pretty excited to see the talk from Amber Venz Box as she's - to sum it up - insanely cool. She's super business, fashion and social media-savvy and with her partner, Baxter Box, she started rewardStyle - the influencer network responsible for almost $1billion in high-end fashion sales to date.

rewardStyle is an invitation only network of high-end influencers. The company connects retailers with these influencers and helps them build partnerships for a commission. They were one of the earliest adopters of this form of influencer representation and as such have enjoyed a great measure of success.

In the session, Amber shared the six things she credits this success to:

  1. Aiming to solve a real problem (and never stopping innovating)!
  2. Focussing on the long game, stick to your mission statement
  3. Having a revenue strategy
  4. Hiring people with complementary strengths
  5. Loving what she does
  6. Focussing on other people's success

In question time, Amber outlined another huge ethos which has led to her success - everything her company does is underpinned by data. Everything is calculated and she always follows client behaviours to plan her next decision - whether that's with regards to the content she's posting or the platform she's posting it on.


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