Twenty years ago, Victor Harwood left his think-tank days at WGBH in Boston behind him to throw a conference in the development hotbed of San Francisco –asking patrons for just $25 to attend a weekend’s worth of panels on hypertext technology, which soon would be used to build something called the World Wide Web.
“I didn’t think any corporation would subsidize any of their executives to come to the conference — HTTP was just too off the wall,” Harwood remembers.
Still, about 1,000 like-minded geeks showed up.
Over the ensuing decades, Harwood learned to expect the unexpected — and profit from it.
In 2007, the man who claims to have coined the phrase “the Digital Revolution” presides over six annual trade events dealing with entertainment, media, advertising and technology — charging $635 for an all-access pass to this year’s three-day Digital Hollywood Fall conference, in Los Angeles through Thursday.
In an era that has seen the downsizing (E3) or demise (Comdex) of most household-name tradeshows of yore, Digital Hollywood is flourishing as a sort of live-content aggregator — attracting various industry stalwarts to hold private meetings all at the same venue, then network together at conference tracks, keynote roundtables and after-hours parties.
“The idea of putting together a tradeshow by hassling people to buy booth (space) is old — anyone who does that is not in business anymore,” Harwood says.
His upcoming confab will be made up of 13 separate but co-located events hosted by the likes of Microsoft, Alcatel-Lucent, Adobe Systems, the Distributed Computing Industry Assn. and research firm Parks Associates.
Harwood, now based in New York, expects as many as 2,800 attendees at Digital Hollywood Fall, held at the Grand Ballroom of the Hollywood & Highland complex and the adjacent Renaissance Hollywood Hotel.
The bodies will represent a 25% jump from June’s Digital Hollywood Spring, the last to be held at the plush oceanfront setting of the Loews Santa Monica.
“We needed more space,” Harwood explains simply, when asked about the venue change. At the Renaissance complex, “we can run an event for 10,000 people.”
Digital Hollywood’s program sports an ever more dizzying array of concurrent conference tracks — many titled with mouthfuls of 2.0 jargon like “UGM (User-Generated Media), Social Networks and Traditional Media: Strategies in Content, Communications and Commerce, Part I.”
Heads of MySpace and Facebook will be in the house — as well as numerous startups you probably haven’t heard of … yet.
The technology sector has always loved the show: The Consumer Electronics Assn., a D.C.-based trade group for hardware makers, bought a piece of Digital Hollywood in 1997.
Harwood accordingly produces branded events at the association’s massive CES event in January.
Hollywood execs take tech seriously, as evidenced by their attendance: Dwight Caines, Columbia TriStar’s exec VP of digital marketing strategy, hosts a VIP dinner today, while top brass from Disney, Fox, NBC Universal, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. were to mingle with directors and chairmen from Deutsche Bank, Oppenheimer and Co. and UBS at a venture capital and private equity dinner last night.
During the day, music, TV and film execs chair panels on everything from Web advertising and rights management to 3-D film production workflow.
“With the issues that we are addressing in all of these different rooms — remember, we’re going into subset-ideas of subset-ideas — anyone who doesn’t pay attention to those subsets might as well doom their company,” Harwood declares. “I have to adapt myself as much today as I did 20 years ago, and I believe every (entertainment) executive feels the exact same way.”
“There’s no other barometer of the health of the industry like it,” observes industry analyst Richard Doherty, a frequent speaker at Digital Hollywood, who joins this year’s mobile entertainment conference track.
Doherty, who expects to attend more than 100 trade events worldwide himself this year, notes of Harwood’s confab: “It’s still the only conference that brings together creatives, agents, distributors, technologists, financiers, lawyers and media — legally, it’s very hard for a lot of these people to be in the same room, unless there’s a common purpose and a common theme. I’ve seen more minds changed — enlightened, or made aware of opportunities and dangers — at Digital Hollywood than at any other conference.”
What: Digital Hollywood Fall
When: Oct. 29-Nov. 1
Where: Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland and the adjacent