Content king in evolution of e-business

'Net leaders agree success depends on consumer

Even as the precipitous drop of the Dow and Nasdaq cast new doubts on the strength of the digital economy Tuesday, five of the Internet’s top entrepreneurs remained bullish on the future of e-commerce at an early afternoon panel at the Variety/Schroders Big Picture conference.

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“We’re in the middle of a great correction,” said George Bell, president and CEO of Excite@Home. Indeed, the Nasdaq dropped 574 points at midday and clawed back up to close down 74 points. “The market needs to become much more discriminating,” said Kevin O’Connor, CEO and co-founder of DoubleClick Inc. “This will raise the bar.”

NBC anchor Tom Brokaw — moderating a panel that also included Jeffrey Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com; Chris Kitze, vice chairman of NBCi; and Jay Walker, vice chairman and founder of Priceline.com and chairman of Walker Digital — called the stock drop a Darwinian chapter in the history of e-business.

“It’s not only the strong that will survive, but also the large that will survive,” Brokaw said.

Despite the diversity of guests at a conference whose many panels and symposia hinged on the rising influence of the ‘Net on all aspects of the entertainment biz, panelists agreed on the elasticity of the market and demonstrated that their vision of the business models which have the best chances for success in a fluctuating market are remarkably similar.

Perhaps the greatest consensus rested on the notion that the balance of power in the e-economy has shifted toward the consumer.

“The audience is the content,” said Bell. “Businesses that fail to embrace the audience as part of that experience are not fun-damentally leveraging the Web.”

“Instead of going out and grabbing things, things are coming to you, anticipating your needs,” added Kitze, who said that customers can come to expect “Hotel Four Seasons service at McDonald’s.”

Kitze and Bell sparred over the question of how electronic devices will converge in the home.

“The TV is an 8-track tape, the computer is your CD,” Kitze said. “If you take a computer, make the screen bigger, get rid of all the controls, you’ve still got a computer but it looks like a TV.”

“I don’t believe in convergence,” countered Bell. “What people want from TV is TV,” and he said the Web will provide functions that complement TV but don’t replace it.

But all panelists concurred with Brokaw that the business world is changing at warp speed as new technologies gain a greater foothold.

Kitze said that “several years out” there will be broadband access in 2 million to 3 million homes, adding: “In 2008 you’re up to 75% penetration.”

Entertainment companies that best capitalize on such changes, said Walker, will be those that don’t just put entertainment content on the ‘Net, but add an interactive “wow” factor that brick-and-mortar business doesn’t allow.

“The entertainment community here holds the keys of taking this out of the utility and into the wow level,” said Walker. “The 8-track cartridge is any (Internet) business that is simply replicated from the world and doesn’t have that wow component.”

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