DIGITAL MEDIA FROM THE INSIDE OUT: My focus is digital content -- production, distribution, collaboration, innovation, creativity. Some posts have appeared across the web (HuffPo, Tribeca's Future of Film, The Wrap, MIPblog, etc.). To receive these posts regularly via email, sign up for my newsletter here.



On Monday I watched episode 1 of TCM’s MOGULS & MOVIE STARS with the lovely title: “Peepshow Pioneers”. The seven-part series will span the rise and demise of the first-generation movie studio founders, roughly 1890-1970, with installment one exploring the entrepreneurial roots of the movies, including the epochal struggle between inventor Thomas Edison and the men who founded the studios.

I could not help but notice the parallels to our current media environment 100 years later in this story of a band of outsiders — Jewish immigrants who came to America by will and to “the movies” by accident — who took on and beat a powerful Edison movie cartel that controlled 80% of the business, including content production, tools creation, content distribution and consumer exhibition in a vertically integrated complex of aligned companies. The Trust defended its questionably broad patents and its oligopoly by any means necessary, including the use of roaming bands of thugs.

A Supreme Court case eventually broke up the Trust in the teens, opening the door for Edison competitors, most of who had already moved from the then-movie capital in metro New York City to the sunny climes of Los Angeles, where they found cheap land in an undeveloped suburb called Hollywood. They moved there mainly to get away from the thugs, as this documentary would have it.

These were the original disruptors in an emergent media business, unseating the incumbent and building a glorious mousetrap that turned the movies into a major global industry. Of course, these upstarts promptly did Edison one better by building their own vertically integrated system of production, distribution and exhibition that effectively froze out their challengers for a generation: This was the “golden age” of Hollywood, when their studio system controlled every aspect of the business. Subsequent episodes of TCM’s series — premiering each Monday— are devoted to the expansion of this world built by moguls with now-familiar brand-names: Mayer (MGM), Fox, Warner, Laemmle (Universal), Loew and others that followed.

Within a generation, their cozy arrangement was itself to be dismantled by yet another disruptor, namely television, and another court case, the 1948 consent decree that untethered production (studios) from distribution (theatre chains).  A new generation of Hollywood moguls, led by talent agent Lew Wasserman, were able to co-opt the new media when they integrated talent, television, and movies, creating a different sort of incumbent power base for the business, one which lasted largely intact, even with the influx of new distribution methods like cable and pay TV and home video, until the advent of the Internet. There have been waves of new entrants and would-be disruptors, but Hollywood has been successful in absorbing each successive challenge, and prospering along the way.

Most of us believe that the tsunami of digital media, most particularly broadband distribution of print, audio and then video over the World Wide Web, marks another epochal disruption akin to those in the teens and the 50s. The timing is right for this “long wave” of innovation to disrupt the status quo.

It certainly seems that the technological and entrepreneurial shift powered by Silicon Valley innovation is different in kind, and will continue to disrupt and transform media, even without a comparable Supreme Court validation, although some might argue that the breakup of Ma Bell was that shot back in the 80s. 

Already we have heroes and villains, with some of the attendant myth making (“The Social Network”, for instance).

Just seems impossible to imagine that we won’t be watching THE NEW MOGULS at some point in the future. What we will be watching this content on, well, that’s what those new moguls are probably working on, right now.




Nearly a week after reading James Rainey’s LA Times column about the death of privacy — occasioned by the launch of a new celebrity-spotting website called JustSpotted — I’m still mulling over the issues he raised and, in turn, the feelings and memories that followed.

JustSpotted is a site that scrapes the web, mainly Twitter and Facebook, for celebrity sightings posted by average people, along with published reports, and mashes them up with photos on a map. Fans can sign up (naturally) to receive updates of fave celebs, along with the usual social rigmarole involved with Web 2.0 sites.

Rainey (@LATimesrainey) sees JustSpotted as just one more symptom of invasive social media that is taking over (and ruining) life as we know it. He takes 1,200 words to describe, often deftly, the evidence pouring in from all fronts to prove that this trend of public transparency has gone too far, sparking a counter-rebellion against social media.

Among other factoids, he sites a recent Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker article,  Gawker's celebrity stalker site, a new $250-million Kleiner, Perkins venture fund for social media, David Fincher’s “The Social Network” movie, a Bournemouth University experiment to unplug students, and quotes an author, Daniel Keen, whose book about privacy "Digital Vertigo" will come out soon.

It would be easy to draw a hard line between him as a Luddite and the future-oriented techno-pioneers. There have always been those who resist change. And there have always been evangelists, touting the wonders of new technologies. Lord knows I myself have exploited  the fears of traditional media folk who are afraid of falling behind the pace of change.


But this is a false dichotomy, especially with somebody like Rainey. The guy is no Luddite, and too good a reporter to be dismissed.

Who among us, after all, has not felt some unease with the degree of openness made so easy by the ubiquity of social media tools? Not the truly horrifying Oh-My-God! Moments, like a friend of mine last week who uploaded the “wrong” iPhoto album to Facebook, and worried that some afterimage of the inappropriate might live on in cyberspace, even though he had immediately deleted the offending photos. It’s like hitting the send button on an angry email — cyber-regret.

Rainey’s form of regret and concern can most easily be spotted amongst what marketers might charitably refer to as “the older demographic” — basically, gray-haired Boomers like me. Many of my friends boycott the entire web 2.0 phenomenon, save perhaps the viewing of YouTube videos. They don’t “friend” on Facebook or tweet or comment or otherwise exhibit online behavior that could bring them into this seamless digital lifestyle that Rainey dislikes and mistrusts. They are happy with email and phone calls.

I count myself as an exception to my demographic, and indeed, by most accounts, there are millions of us at this point. In my case, I’ve always been an early adopter of new technologies. If it’s new, I try it, and I have the dead devices and dormant accounts for Applelink,Friendfeed, Friendster, NetNewsWire, GeoCities, The Palace, The Wave – to name just a few -- to prove it.

As the winners in this round of the social media battle began to emerge, I have gotten very comfortable using a suite of fantastic tools which help me do the things I’ve done for decades, only better. It’s hard to imagine life without YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in and Flickr, not to mention iTunes, Amazon & Netflix.

The impact, of course, is a fairly extensive transformation of the old tools, things like TV, radio, records, movies, newspapers, etc. Smarter (and richer) guys 20 years ago predictred this when the digital revolution was just getting started.

And so why should celebrity be any different? Why should the rich and famous live in a protected bubble when the rest of us aren’t. Moreover, I would maintain that the core impulse at work here – the strange and unsavory mechanisms of fame and fandom – are the same as they have always been. I know. I’ve been there, too.

Let me say that, at this point in my life, I’m not so interested in celebrities. I don’t watch a lot of reality TV, and I rarely check TMZ or Perez Hilton. This is true, in part, because I spent 20 years working for the American Film Institute, and I had the opportunity to encounter actors and other famous people on a regular and routine basis. It ain’t no big deal. If the walls could talk, I would have lost my job, actually. From the first sighting I ever had while on the AFI payroll (Red Buttons chatting with Billy Wilder and Patricia Neal at a dinner), I learned that our role was “collegial.” Stars don’t support nonprofits that act like fanzines.

The really funny celeb sightings over the years, both during and well before I ever worked in show business, are outside the star-making bubble – daily life, not red carpets and premieres, publicity junkets and fan events.

And, just like today’s tweeters and Facebookers, whose posts constitute the fodder of, I too enjoyed sharing my own little stardust epiphanies with friends — I literally “dined off this for a week,” as the old cliché goes. Some of my faves:

—World heavyweight champ Jerry Cooney, squeezing the cantaloupes (LOL) at a Bridgehampton produce stand.

—James Mason coming out of a Jewish deli.

—Grace Jones on Sixth Avenue walking two Borzoi dogs, flanked by gigantic bodybuilders.

—Karl Malden in line at Thrifty Drugs — using coupons.

—Shelley Winters in the pharmacy line at the old Schwab Drug Store on Sunset, getting what had to have been the largest container of Valium I’ve ever seen.

—Natalie Portman having martinis on the patio of the Chateau Marmont … with Lindsay Lohan … a week out of rehab.

You get the idea. That little frisson of recognition, followed quickly by a desire to share such privileged info, is nothing, if not human. The fact that digital technology enables this impulse to be acted upon instantly, and just as quickly to be processed by clever developers with nifty algorithms may not be quite as natural. But it’s hardly alien, and it’s not going to ruin the world as we know it.

Which is not to say there are no consequences to this stuff, as a lot of the perpetual new-media crowd seems to feel. The good old days weren’t so good, after all, they might say. And it’s true: the days of studio-controlled and manufactured “news” about celebrities, a la “Day of the Locust” or “L.A. Confidential” are gone for good.... good riddance!

But, I’m not sure the consequences will be the ones feared by Rainey, but then, I refuse to take a stand on the future. Prognostication is a mug’s game. Crystal-ball-gazing inevitably turns out to be wrong, though you couldn’t tell it from the web, where everyone is a seer, a literal army of prognosticators.

There’s even a website for it, called “Web of Fate”, described thusly:

Web of Fate is a social experiment that harnesses the collective intelligence of the web to visualize and uncover hidden relationships among future and historical events.

Please, if you would: Alert the media.





• TIPS on how to Moderate a Conference Panel, Pt. 2: TELLING THE STORY


Part 1 of my post on How to Moderate a Conference Panel focused on steps you might take prior to the day of the panel session itself -- recruiting speakers, communicating with them, extracting the information you need, planning and running a conference call, and the like.

Part 2 focuses on some techniques and insights aimed at conducting the session itself. We've all experienced bad panel sessions. Nine times out of ten, the problem is with the moderator who is either too lazy to shape the experience on behalf of the audience. He may be a superstar figure within the industry, and is just too busy to prepare. Or perhaps it's the all-too-common assumption that the attraction is the speakers, and the moderator's job is to "let them speak." Au contraire. The moderator's job, in my opinion, is to craft a story out of the bits and pieces of talk and presentation that fill the typical 60 to 90 minute conference panel. How?

Moderator as Narrator. I used to make documentary films, most of which were of the “verite” style in which the story unfolded without a narrator. This is hard to do well. The audience likes some help. This is also true at conferences, where, let’s face it, the audience may be paying even less attention to your  content than they would be at a theatre. Just as the narrator is a guide for  the documentary audience, providing context, information, and moving the story along, so too is the moderator the guide for the conference panel audience. It’s true, the “story” is rarely as dramatic or compelling as a film or a novel. Often a conference topic will focus on the nitty-gritty business of our field. But there is a “story” in every panel, if you look for it. And by doing so, your audience will think you are brilliant. How? Here are some simple tips:

  • Tell them what your panelists are going to say, remind them each time a new speaker begins his/her presentation, summarize what was just said, and wrap up the story with a personal lesson you have learned.

Note: This is my reinterpretation of a tip I got a long time ago when I started moderating panels at NATPE — the National Association of Television Programming Executives. Back in the day, if you were on a NATPE panel, you received “The Really Useful Hand-Dandy Moderator’s & Panelist’s Handbook.” Beth Braen, NATPE’s Senior Vice President Marketing, told me this morning that NATPE plans to update the handbook and post it to their online speaker and FAQ sections.  Some other tips:

Start on time, end on time.  On the day of the panel, whether you have a pre-panel gathering or not, it is your responsibility as the moderator to get people on the platform, ready to start on time. This is a courtesy to the audience, and will make you popular with the conference coordinator, too! If you have a latecomer on your panel, tough noogies, start anyway.

Introductions. Introduce yourself quickly, and then your panelists, using a simple title and then adding what each speaker will focus upon. This is the beginning of your narration. (Do NOT repeat what may already be printed in the conference brochure.) 

Timing. You’ve already decided in advance the maximum amount of time each speaker has been allotted. You may reiterate this in your remarks, so the audience knows what’s coming, and as a reminder for each speaker. Keep a stop watch (which most phones have now) going, and be firm about ending each segment.

Moderator Questions. As each speaker goes through their shtick, formulate a question or two, derived from what they actually said. Make notes! What is missing? What should they be covering? What are the implications? Did they make news in something they said? By customizing a question tailored to each speaker, you help the audience understand their unique contribution, and also avoid that dreaded panel process of going down the row with the same question. No question needs five answers. Sometimes two or more panelists are on different sides of an issue. This gives me a chance to let them mix it up directly. Key point here is: tailor and focus your questions.

You’re a surrogate for the audience. Another role you play is surrogate audience member, especially true with a big audience. I will often ask for a show of hands at the beginning of the session to help my speakers (and myself) understand the types of folks in the audience. The focus of your questions will be quite different, for example, if the majority of attendees are producers, or engineers, or lawyers, or investors. Etc.

A note about self-promotion. Nobody speaks at an industry conference with entirely altruistic motives. We all want to bring attention to ourselves, to our companies, to our product or service. As moderator, you can help your speakers to achieve this goal by impressing upon them how truly dreadful a panel can be when its members do nothing but sell and promote. You are indeed the stand-in for the audience, which can tolerate only slight commercial crapola before they will rebel, often by getting up and leaving. Unless your speaker is making a newsworthy announcement about his/her company during your panel, the focus should be on the TOPIC.

As a reward for your panelists’ good behavior, the moderator can use cleverly worded questions to allow panelists to shine. For instance at my Digital Hollywood panel, as I went down the table with my customized question, I also invited each speaker to provide a “success story” that one of their clients, customers, or users had experienced. This provides good, user-oriented information while still highlighting the value of each speaker's company.

Audience Q&A.  You’ll want to wrap up your own questions and the panel discussion in time for audience questions, as well as a final summary. Don’t cheat the audience. They are paying (usually) and they rightly expect to have some chance at access to your experts.  That said, it’s also true that not all audience questions are worth answering. Regardless of the “quality” of the question, you can control the flow of the discussion by restating or simply repeating the question, and then directing it to a panelist to answer. If you’re good at it, you can make a weak question better than it is.

You must be vigilant in managing the Q&A. Don’t let people make speeches — cut them off politely. If the question is not directed at a particular person, after you summarize it, you should pick a single person to answer, using your intuition and sense of fairness. As the end approaches, warn the audience that you have time for one or two more questions.

Summarize. In my experience, the summary you provide for the panel will make it more memorable than any other single action. You help folks remember what happened, validate the speakers' contributions, and, most importantly, finish off your narrative -- complete the story. You also demonstrate a degree of mastery that will stick in the minds of many.

Your task is to compose and deliver a distillation of a session (maybe 60-90 minutes) in real-time. This is challenging, because you're busy the whole time. I find that the easiest way to summarize is simply to personalize your response. As the audience surrogate, share what you heard, what you learned, and why it’s important to the field. A sentence or two for each speaker will suffice. What’s more important is your conclusion, delivered with conviction that the experience you just shared was valuable.

Thank you’s.  BTW, I send an individualized note to each speaker on my panel, and anyone who helped me with the logistics, as well as the conference coordinator. Sounds corny but it's usually appreciated.

In closing, I return to the hotel lobby with my two friends. After tossing about our opinions on moderating panels, I got ready to leave, but was stopped by Ms. Parker’s one liner: “I’ve mastered the art of moderating panels. Now I have to master the art of getting paid for it.” It’s true, this is one thankless task. We do it to maintain our profile within the industry, to create visibility for ourselves or our companies, to get clients, and, sometimes, to learn about a new subject. But we don’t do it to get rich.

“That’s called ‘facilitating,’” said Ms. Tamer, my other friend. “People hire facilitators, not moderators.” That’s a subject for a future post. 


• TIPS on how to Moderate a Conference Panel, Pt. 1: PREPARATION

Nick DeMartino's tips on how to moderate a conference panel, especially when you don't know the speakers.

Click to read more ...


• Digital Hollywood: TV Everywhere Panel

I will be moderating a panel next week at Digital Hollywood, the long-running conference for the digital content community held each fall and spring at the Loew's Hotel in Santa Monica. If you are there, please drop by and join my panelists and the conversation, or contact me if you'd like to meet one-on-one.

Here are the details:

Strategic Investigation - Drill Down Day


12:50 PM - 2:00 PM

Track I: AdvUp-25, Video-26

Content, Commerce, Aggregation and Syndication Strategies Across Platforms: Broadband, Mobile and TV

Today’s media marketplace allows consumers to access a range of content across a dizzying array of platforms and devices, including broadband, mobile and television. Panelists are involved in pioneering efforts that enable content producers and aggregators to reach these consumers at multiple touch points, providing services like program development and publishing, channel and service aggregation, distribution, syndication, and monetization via advertising and commerce. Join this engaging conversation among some of today’s most innovative and real-life enablers of the much-touted TV Everywhere concept.


Peter Berger, President and CEO,
Ted May, SVP, Strategy and Business Affairs, Synacor
Brendan Condon, Chief Executive Officer, REVShare
Gary Baker, Founder/CEO, ClipBlast!
Chase Norlin, CEO, AlphaBird
David Dowd, Founder & CEO, ViewPlay Media

Nick DeMartino, moderator

Speaker bios at See the entire agenda with speaker names at

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