Thursday, January 27, 2011

SIIA Information Industry Summit 2011 - Chasing the Money in The Second Web

This year's SIIA Information Industry Summit at Cipriani's 42nd Street digs was an interesting study in content industry leaders providing provocative insights that seem to come usually from guests dressed in blue jeans instead of suits. The center of gravity in the content industry has shifted permanently towards Web-enabled services that put more of a premium on understanding and responding to online audiences and away from traditional product platforms.

Mobile content delivery adds more leverage against this fulcrum, providing more ways to collect and disseminate content services, and accelerating the need to make intellectual property, agile, cross-platform, easy to integrate and multi-functional - or else. It isn't that intellectual property is obsolete, but owning rights to content is only of limited use if extracting value from the rights to that property is not as lucrative as extracting value from how it's used through agile repurposing. Licensing matters, but if your licensing doesn't get your content to the best opportunities fast enough, then you're missing increasingly large parts of the available market that rewards valuable content.

You'll find links to my live-blogging of individual sessions below, followed by my highlights and summary analysis.

Many of the excellent panels and keynotes at the IIS faced these problems square in the face and offered both sober assessments and exciting responses. Jonathan Knee's opening keynote underscored the lack of fundamental shareholder value for many of the well-established media companies, over-leveraged by market share grabs and under-invested in increasing margins. B2B information providers fare better than their consumer media counterparts, but even there today's leading companies are offering less than 5 percent annual returns over the past ten years. Take away some sources of "cash cow" revenues like fees for rating financial securities, though, and the picture is more grim. Many SIIA member companies already embrace Jonathan's theme of "Efficiency is cool," but it needs to be applied on more platforms from more angles in more entrepreneurial ways.

Some of these ways were highlighted by InfoGroup CEO Clare Hart, who demoed a simple but nifty example of how mobile phone messaging services can create custom content for audiences while collecting marketable contact data and demographics. She had the audience type in a mobile phone text message with some personal data that people sent to an InfoGroup platform that sent them an email based on that information with a personalized autographed photo of SIIA Content Division Vice President Ed Keating. It was a simple but powerful way to demonstrate how audiences are key contributors to the quality and value of today's online information services which in turn allow personalization and contextualization of services in ways that drive up their value significantly.

ProQuest CEO Marty Kahn did a great job of underscoring these themes with a presentation that highlighted some of the key opportunities and obstacles to success in today's content industry. One of the key points that Marty Kahn highlighted was the challenge of dealing with massive amounts of content being generated in nations with booming economies like China that are not generated in Western languages, most especially English. There are enormous amounts of valuable content being generated in research labs and universities that are opaque to audiences not familiar with their languages. This takes away a huge portion of market growth potential.

Marty also highlighted key barriers to success such as overcoming barriers between public and private institutions, dealing with inconsistent content formats across platforms and the need to face up to the realities of buyers who are less willing than ever to pay for content in its traditionally packaged forms. This last point lead to a powerful and somehow ominous observation: "Too often we find users who are trying to do serious research hitting paywalls. The process is too imperfect, leads to frustration and lack of true discovery." In other words, of what use is intellectual property if it's not getting to the people who need it when they need it most?

Coming from the CEO of ProQuest, perhaps the world's largest source of licensed periodical literature,  this was a profound statement. It cuts to the heart of the margin issues that Jonathan Knee highlighted; if your efforts to protect the value of IP in fact reduce your ability to realize its value in its markets, then there are fundamental issues to address in how you return value to your investors. With governments less willing to pay for content in tight times, the answers are hard to come by for many forms of content that are essential for economic growth. New partnerships, new attitude towards what creates value for IP in content markets and new kinds of staffing at information companies are essential to overcoming these barriers.

Having come up to speed with the Web for the most part, content companies now find themselves adapting to The Second Web, in which content must succeed in ever more far-flung and mobile contexts in more languages on more platforms  using more sensors and data inputs with more personalized value than ever before. Thinking back to the information systems of Wall Street and other financial communities, it's as if the average content user today has become as demanding as the typical investment bank securities trader was a decade or two ago - and now they want that information in real-time for next to nothing, 24/7/365, anywhere they go, on any platform that they desire. The content business isn't your father's all-singing, all-dancing Web site anymore. You get your content to where people need it and want it and can share it the way that they want to - or you're gone.

The heartening news is that in the middle of this challenging landscape are content and technology companies that are learning to adapt to this changing terrain rapidly and effectively. Especially heartening were this year's batch of SIIA Preview companies, which were tackling complex content opportunities with very powerful business models. Also heartening were the many conversations that I had with executives at the conference, which demonstrated a high level of awareness of many of these issues and a strong desire to tackle them head on. Read further for the details from the great presenters at this conference, but rest assured that the content industry seems to be getting ready to prepare for far better days ahead.
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