New York–There was a question during the morning session today at the DeSilva + Phillips Media Dealmakers Summit that crystallized what a lot of people are thinking about the future. "Are tablets and e-readers the future of media?"
For George F. Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, the answer was simple: "Yes. These devices are the nexus of media."
The question came from Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, media editor of the Financial Times, who was moderator of a panel called "Tablets, E-Readers and the Future of Media." He posed it to three panelists: Colony; John Ridding, CEO of the Financial Times; and Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR.
While Colony’s response raised a few eyebrows, considering his audience was largely print-based media company executives and their financial sponsors, and considering that Forrester is one of the world’s best-respected technology forecasting firms, it got even more provocative from there.
Not only are tablets the future, Colony said, but "We think the Web is dead." It may always be there, he said, but it’s not the future. Nor are e-readers-devices like Amazon’s Kindle. "There’s one advantage to those things and that’s that they can be read on the beach. That’s not enough."
If the Web is dead, what’s rising, Colony said, is "the "app Internet." And that’s where media companies need to focus themselves strategically. The need to de-emphasize their HTML skills and become app-Internet developers-for tablets and smart phones alike. "That’s the most important thing," Colony said.
Not surprisingly, not everyone agreed. Schiller said that NPR content is used on smart phones, on e-readers and tablets and on the HTML Internet. "Tablets are a piece of the puzzle, but not the whole puzzle," she said.
The dealmakers summit, sponsored by the media-industry deal brokerage DeSilva + Phillips, is the ninth-annual event, and it comes at a time when media companies are still highly distressed.
The program was a strong mix of substantive sessions with a focus on current and future issues that was unusually effective for media-industry events of this type.
The attendees–about 175 of them–were a who’s who of traditional print-magazine company executives and their financial backers, with a heavy skew towards the b-to-b side of the business. Most of those executives have seen their companies stagger through the last three years, some of them enduring bankruptcy. Many of those that have not formally gone through Chapter 11 have experienced de facto insolvency and ceded control to lending firms.
Nevertheless, the mood at the event was upbeat, said DeSilva + Phillips managing partner Roland DeSilva. There are a lot of broad economic drivers coming into play, he said, including projected GDP growth of 4 percent; a stock market that has crested 12,000 for the first time in several years; and a recovering debt market.
More specifically, DeSilva said, most of the companies in this corner of the media have been through their restructuring already, meaning that their leaders "are not focused on paying down debt, they’re focused on the digital transition. You also have an unprecedented amount of liquidity in the market," DeSilva said. "This liquidity is going to fuel more deals. Most companies are owned by debt-based financial institutions. They can’t keep these businesses. It’s a perfect storm in a positive way."
The traditional well-known magazine companies of the last couple of decades, DeSilva said, are going to be the primary targets for acquisitions. "They’ve come through the terrible tsunami. They’ve put in place new models that include all of the changing world we’re in."