Reinvention at the U.S. Open
Tennis, crashing drones and media innovation.
Last week I went to the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens, New York, with the same three business friends I’ve attended the event with the last 14 years. We’ve built a cool tradition that is both work oriented and purely social.
The hosts are my friends Steve Davis, president of SRDS, and his colleague, Account Manager Michael Forgash. Rounding out the group is Ted Bahr, CEO and co-founder of BZ Media.
Ted and I are the guests. Steve and Michael hope the two of us—the entrepreneurial CEO and the leader of FOLIO:—exchange ideas and challenge each other and Steve and Michael on the state of our common industry. It always works. Our annual outing has produced many great stories for Folio: over the years. It’s frequently deepened my knowledge and understanding of media-industry issues. We trade perspectives, enjoy the ambiance, have a lobster roll and even watch some tennis.
The U.S. Tennis Center’s Arthur Ashe Stadium is the focal point of the tennis facility in Queens, and has been an icon for nearly 20 years in New York, standing on the former site of the 1964 World’s Fair, close to Citi Field and LaGuardia Airport. This year, it evolved dramatically with the addition of a roof. Now the tournament can continue uninterrupted, regardless of rain.
And I was thinking that act of adaptation by the stadium—it has changed the skyline in a major way—was metaphorically similar to what my friends at BZ Media and SRDS are doing at their businesses. BZ Media launched in the late 1990s covering the software-development market. As recently as six or seven years ago, Ted was a huge believer in print media—calling himself “the Last Samauri.” Steve Davis’ mission was to transform a dated print directory business model as advertising was changing dramatically before our eyes.
This year, both Ted and Steve have pushed energetically into new business initiatives. It was coincidence that a drone crashed at the tennis stadium the night we were there. Because Ted is launching this week, as in today, what he’s describing as the largest commercial drone conference and tradeshow in North America—Interdrone, in Las Vegas. Now, drones aren’t Ted’s market. Software is. He acknowledged he knew little about the drone industry other than it was red hot. But he knows publishing really well, and he knew he could launch something that brought value to the market. And while the event is actually occurring now, Ted tells me it’s been a major success in terms of attendees, exhibitors and revenue.
Meanwhile, SRDS has had to change too. Several years back, the old ubiquitous monthly print directories went away in favor of an online database updated in real time and accessible anytime and anywhere. Information was better organized and searchable. It was a no-brainer, and created a whole host of new advertising opportunities for SRDS. For those who might not know, SRDS aggregates publisher information across many markets for ad agencies. The advertisers are publishers looking for broader, more meaningful engagement with media planners and buyers—who come to SRDS as the best single source of media options and data in the world.
But the shift online was just the start. SRDS has subsequently created a programmatic advertising platform and network, and is just now in the process of building a customizable publisher portal, where advertisers and other publishers can map exactly who is engaging with their brands and their data. It’s hugely important to publishers, because it tells them the effectiveness of their brand profile in the eyes of buyers, and it tells them who’s engaging with them as buying decisions move forward. Great business intelligence.
So here’s a salute to media-industry innovation, plus longstanding tradition, plus, occasionally, some tennis.