â€œYou Have Questions, We Have Answersâ€: Notes from the NATPE Exhibit Floor, Part 3
As evident in my previous post, itâ€™s easy to create weâ€™s and themâ€™s here at NATPE, the â€œweâ€ being either academics or audiences, the â€œthemâ€ being the execs and the industry. The language, for one, is very different. Miranda Banks has been recording buzzwords and frequently used phrases, so if you know her, you should ask for a list. I listed several in my previous post â€“ â€œmonetization,â€ â€œmaking the pie biggerâ€ â€“ but a few others include the obsession with â€œgrowing the audienceâ€ (like weâ€™re giant pumpkins going to the state fair), â€œgatekeeping,â€ â€œwalled gardens,â€ and â€œfirewallsâ€ (presumably to make sure those pumpkins stay where theyâ€™re meant to be), and a concern â€“ as the American broadcast industry approaches the February 2008 deadline for moving to digital â€“ that oneâ€™s â€œanalog dollarsâ€ may turn into â€œdigital centsâ€ (the price of pumpkins, it seems, just ainâ€™t what it used to be). More below the fold ….
Thereâ€™s also the bravado of the schedule, as many panels promise visionary speakers that will predict the future and solve your problems. The quotation in my title is a paraphrase from one such blurb.
Perhaps needless to say, the panelists do not have all the answers. You donâ€™t have to listen too carefully to hear significant anxiety and concern for the state of the digital future. How will pricing work? How will producers get their work out there? How will the audience be tamed? What happens when those pesky DVR users ruin the ad market? Or those pesky BitTorrenters? Or YouTubers? And how about those darn kids, who donâ€™t even have the common courtesy to watch television designed by rich middle-age men in suits? There are way more questions than answers here, as one might expect at this point in televisionâ€™s development. Even with new and funky companies like Joost gracing the scene, nobody really knows whatâ€™s happening with the media, or which direction to move in.
And then thereâ€™s the desperation of the sellers, especially if you move around the edges of the Exhibit Floor. They need to sell their shows, and they approach each and every person who comes their way eager to make a sale. (Brief explanation: beyond the panels, the key thing going on at NATPE is selling. While the big nets have their beachhead either in private rooms, away from the masses, or behind cordoned barriers and high walls on the floor, much of the Exhibit Floor is populated by small production companies or channels who are trying to syndicate their wares). When they see youâ€™re from a university, or when you tell them, they either move on at speed, or lose a piece of their soul and their energy before picking themselves back up to take the fight elsewhere. You sense that some of these sellers will go under, and you can sense that they sense it. So answers donâ€™t seem to be forthcoming for many of them either.
Being here is a wonderful ethnographic experience, letting me see how television ticks. And itâ€™s easy to focus on the differences â€“ the vocabulary, the driving force, the bravado, and the look (most of the men seem to be 30-55, white, and in a black suit, while most of the women seem to be skinny, overly-perfumed, 25-40). But Iâ€™m aware that Iâ€™m often Othering these folk. Just as a traveler to a new land notes the â€œoddâ€ customs, strange vocab, and cultural quirks, yet ignores that 90% is similar, familiar, and comfortable, itâ€™s easy to ignore the similarities here.
But at the end of the day, itâ€™s really quite a lot like an academic conference:
- most of the questions are by people posturing to be noticed;
- many pretend to have answers that they donâ€™t;
- most are stuck interminably in a set paradigm and way of thinking, and want to nail the field down to that paradigm;
- we have our own hive mind and vocab obsessions of the moment (if you get Miranda to share her list of words, ask her about the similar lists she produced for academic conferences too)
- the desperate sellers on the periphery of the floor are just like the grad students circling the edges of the social events, not knowing many people but desperately wanting to meet people who might help them get a job or publication
- meanwhile, the WB, NBC, and other network superstalls and private rooms are like the R1 uni â€œby invitation onlyâ€ parties that reinforce whoâ€™s cool and whoâ€™s not, far enough away or masked enough from the rest of the conference to deny access to many, yet close enough to ensure that everyone knows theyâ€™re there
- white guys are over-represented
- a surprising amount of â€œexpertiseâ€ and â€œdataâ€ comes from what peopleâ€™s kids, nieces and nephews, neighborsâ€™ friends, etc. do, rather than from anything a touch more empirical
- a lot of the panels pretty much say and do the same thing
- the air conditioning is on too high
And when it gets down to it, most of the execs Iâ€™ve talked to are pretty decent. None stated a preference for eating babies. So a lot is the same. I need a bit more time to put into words some of the real and important differences, though, so Iâ€™ll post again on that topic when Iâ€™m back in New York.Tags: NATPE