Hub Culture Salon: New York on Empire Media

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2nd Oct 2008

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

New York often reveals a social tempest, and the urban distractions at this salon fit the bill perfectly. Held in the home of empire media and against the backdrop of the recent Tribeca Film Festival, Hub Culture's New York Salon on the media business broke new ground while it propagated some distopian conclusions about big media, all while taking calls, making dates and sculpting zucchini flowers on the plate.

More of a mixed bag than usual, hub members participating in this Salon stitched together a remarkably cohesive conversation in between the culinary presentation of Thalassa, in the heart of Tribeca. Thalassa was a great fit, featuring the perfect cuisine for discussions of empire: deliciously over-priced Greek.

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Pride goeth before the fall? Not likely.
Here's who tottered in, usually on the phone:

Stephanie Heimann-Markham, Luxury Spa Finder

Ben Hayden, Stribling & Assoc.

Deborah Malone, Internationalist

Mark Mulhern, Anomaly

Elizabeth Bacelar, NBC

Nikos Lygeros, Elounda s.a. Hotels & Resorts

Francine Crocker, Liz Claiborne

Mark is a hub transplant from London at the creative agency Anomaly. Anomaly handles some of today's hottest concept brands and sometimes takes a stake in businesses they are involved in. Virgin America, Dasani water, and Enviga, the world's first calorie burning drink, are all clients.

Anomaly is at the center of innovation in the advertising world, and unsurprisingly Mark viewed the concept of empire media with a flick of the head. Simply. Not. That relevant…. for them. Mark is deep in the ad world, so he tends to see empire media as a business partner rather than a consumer.

For his clients, movements are coming from word of mouth and digital engagement, but then, he delivers a hedge on the relationship between user media and empire media: "Traditional broadcast as a failing model may be overstated. The reality is very different because both deliver efficient audiences.

"He sees the US media market as the definitive laboratory for understanding global media." Over 46% of global media dollars are spent on US Citizens – that's 300 million out of over 6 billion people. Clearly an important market."And he strongly feels that the action is online and in word of mouth, not empire media.

Frankie chimed in here, agreeing: "younger audiences just don't care about empire media the way older audiences do…" Liz Claiborne uses targeting, blogs, early adopters… everything they can get their hands on. She agreed with Mark, who outlined that companies and clients want something "deeper than interruption", but it's not easy: "It doesn't mean you just stencil everything on street corners either" stressed Mark.

Deborah draws a disagreeing sword: "Media is an expression for contemporary culture, and marketing is an expression of contemporary thinking in the world," which is why she loves it. "I think we're in big media's golden age, media is changing the world more than anything else."

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The Blackberry: Media or not Media?
That prompted the question – what IS media anyway? Is a Blackberry media? Email? An asymmetrical skyscraper with a fancy cafeteria? The group decided media = content + screen, even if the screen is paper.

The feeding cycle frenzy between blogs and media came up again, and while some exclaimed blogs are hugely valuable media, there was a feeling they are mutually interdependent – not MSM vs. blogs. Liz "I'm not a journalist" is a producer at NBC working on the NBC Nightly News and affiliate feeds across the nation, and is particularly well suited to comment on the intrinsic value of MSM: "We're here to stop the lies," she starts, and then "the public has a lot to gain from this interaction between the two, and everyone is reading the main blogs constantly as a source of information to be fact-checked and corroborated." Almost bestowing legitimacy?

This thread wound its way through the whole dinner, and later people came back to it as they debated the relative value of various media. Most agreed that the short term sales and publicity of a network TV exposure, anywhere in the world, remains hugely valuable, but roughly half felt that, for the travel industry as an example, a high ranking on tripadvisor.com was more important than a burst in empire media.

Who should know but Nikos Lygeros, who has created several luxury hotels in Greece,(yes, you can say you know us when booking) and is the very person that empire media alternately reaches, or discusses. He would choose tripadvisor.com "because it lingers" and raised the point that public endorsement is becoming more valuable to business than editorial endorsement. "I believe the web is the future, people are bored of classic media and they know they are selling crap." In Greece at least, no one really believes what empire media say, so they rely on word of mouth.

Stephanie echoed Nikos, but was even more extreme. Her long background at Newsweek supplemented by Luxury Spa Finder (great if you can get it) created her world view. "Why does the US not cover more international stories that matter? Because real estate on the page is everything and everyone thinks about how advertisers will feel." She believes that this relationship compromises the system.

Why are people around the world and in the US turning to the BBC and the AFP? "Because its subsidized, and the capital system of media, along with fear, have compromised the system to the point it is as propagandist as anything anyone else ever created. It is also self-perpetuating, as the US seeks to extend its media model to other locations." Okay then. See you in Cuba.

Liz doubles back in defense of the empire. "We're all in this together," she says, pointing out that NBC's lifeline is its website, msnbc.com, but the top stories there are usually pulled from television, and that nothing moves a product like a few kind words from Matt Lauer. "You know how many airline tickets across the nation get sold to Dubai when Matt reports from there?" she asks, with a grin.

Deborah hits a final chord with the big picture: "the media here used to be the fourth estate, a system of checks and balances, integrity and honesty, government and law," but increasing numbers of people see that fourth estate as themselves, through their peers writing blogs and local coverage, "or even outside media, such as the BBC, or even Al-Jazeera."

In short, empire media retains its power, but the relevance fades. Unless of course, the empire is talking about you, in which case its still the best game in town.

Thanks gang! And look out for highlights from our latest Salon on "the personality of luxury" coming up soon.