Summit: Vision, focus vital for new media success

L.A. Mayor talks improvements; Ben Silverman touts innovation

“Social media is what we used to call friendly reporters,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said with a laugh at Variety’s Venture Capital and New Media Summit, held Wednesday in association with International Esq.

The mayor’s joke points out a crystal clear message: The days where the term “new media” sounded exotic are long gone. Today, industry innovators and venture capitalists alike must contend with the swift-moving currents of consumer interest and progressive technologies.

Villaraigosa, the introductory speaker at the summit, held at the Sofitel Hotel, also emphasized the need for private and public partnerships to create proactive environments where innovation can succeed. In his keynote Q&A and with Variety’s Andrew Wallenstein, Electus CEO Ben Silverman spoke decisively of tectonic shifts ahead as YouTube, Hulu and Netflix give traditional multichannel video providers a run for their money.

Villaraigosa noted several moves the city of L.A. is taking in an effort to improve its economic climate and make it more appealing for cutting-edge industries.

“How do we create the economic ecosystem where the inventors, the innovators and the investors of the future can thrive?” Villaraigosa asked the crowd at the Sofitel Hotel.

Highlights of his plan include the lowering of the gross receipts tax for internet companies, the building of a startup “innovation campus” later this year that will support 20-30 startups in their R&D and the recent creation of the Mayor’s Council on Innovation and Industry.

But all of this is moot unless innovators and investors make money, and the summit’s speakers focused on how to keep up in a rapidly evolving realm of media.

“As the technology revolution unfolds, it will become more and more about creativity and less about engineering,” said Paul Bricault, venture partner at Greycroft Partners and the managing director of Amplify.LA.

That creativity, panelists noted, involves looking at unconventional places for talent and feedback. Prime sources include YouTube and Twitter, according to Liz Jones, senior veep of digital marketing at Relativity Media. She noted that personalities on those platforms can thrive under the professional industry’s radar but still establish strong fanbases.

Jones recalled partnering with wildly popular YouTube channel FPS Russia — which focuses on weaponry — as a source of marketing for Relativity’s Navy Seals pic “Act of Valor.”

Others pointed out the fierce judgment of Internet audiences as the ultimate acid test. “The B.S. meter in social media is so sensitive,” said Jack Krawczyk, head of product marketing at online sensation StumbleUpon.

Some speakers were quick to note that entrepreneurship and innovation shouldn’t merely attempt to cater to audience’s wishes.

“I think Internet consumers actually want companies to be a little more ‘cowboy’ about their efforts,” Airtime topper Michael Polansky said. “If you do too much consumer research before you get started, you often aren’t building a product that you’re excited about.”

The willingness and instincts to follow a vision, BeachMint co-founder and prexy Diego Berdakin said, is what ultimately can spur genuinely new approaches, ideas products and, most crucially, revenue.

“Facebook had a lot of forward-thinking (ideas), which, if polled to consumers at the time, would have resulted in really negative sentiments,” Berdakin said. “They ultimately had a vision, which paid off.”

In his remarks, Silverman stressed the need for media and tech companies to work together not only in developing the best products, but to also put aside politics and squabbling within industries to create a more profitable future — for all.

“Everyone has to play ball — there’s all this ‘frenemy’ stuff that goes on, but it’s gonna take everyone … All sides need to very partner-oriented and accepting of collaboration to define the future,” Silverman said.

“And if you define the future,” he added with a grin, “There’s hundreds of millions of advertising dollars and trillions of consumer spending accessible.”