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Tricks of the Trade

Keynote Address: Mark Cuban

Fri., March 19, 1999

Sunday, 10am

Photo of Mark Cuban
Mark Cuban

photograph by Greg Selig

It's like my granddaddy used to say, "When your favorite tool is a hammer, everything around you starts lookin' like a nail." In his opening keynote for the SXSW Interactive conference, Mark Cuban of Broadcast.com laid out his view of the Internet's future, and not too surprisingly, his predictions involved the impending dominance of streaming audio/video media. In Cuban's vision of a "New Digital Age," TV and computer cultures converge. Within a few years, the Net will finally embrace multimedia, television networks will bite the dust, and the World Wide Web of the future will be ruled by on-demand, high-quality streaming media. Want to watch any of a million movies? Advances in electronic delivery and hardware developments will give customers infinite choices of entertainment and information.

Cuban's prediction of the flood of content that could be broadcast on the Web seems pretty chilling. Imagine the countless sites currently dedicated to people's cats. Now imagine these sites with the gift of full-screen, 30-frames-per-second video. Admittedly, technology will progress. But, like other multimedia bell-and-whistle technologies, does it necessarily mean better content? Or just more of it?

So whether the Web will become TV or vice versa is yet to be seen. Odds are pretty good that we'll be able to check the accuracy of Cuban's views in pretty short order. In an industry that's notorious for turning on a dime, "future predictions" can be realized or rejected in a matter of months. Maybe at next year's conference, we'll know if he hit the nail (real or imagined) on the head.--Pableaux Johnson



ADVENTURES IN ADVERTISING

Sunday, 11am

Mod: Dave Dix (Dell)

Speakers: Chris Clark (CGI Group), Patricia Crowell (Dell), Pete Hayes (Sicola Martin)

Pete Hayes introduced himself and this panel by exposing two myths about advertising on the Web: 1) that banner ads are effective, and 2) that they are the state of the art. And with that, Hayes pretty much set up the debate for the entire panel. Most panelists agreed that the present model of banner advertising, whereby a buyer clicks through a digital billboard to get to the seller's site, is misguided. Instead, CGI's Chris Clark championed the notion that online advertising, since it is so audio/visual, must follow the model of television, in which ads interrupt compelling content with something like a "commercial break." Online businesses must remember what ad agencies have known for years: Advertising is really most effective at generating brand-name preference. In other words, trying to sell major retailers to their product with a static portal that can easily be ignored will never work. So what can we expect the face of online advertising to look like? As if to answer that question, Hayes tapped a few buttons on his laptop, and within seconds, the entire room was captivated by the large-screen projection of the new Star Wars trailer. Streaming technology, in which real audio and real video combine to create a moving image, is exactly what Clark and Hayes predict for the future online. Patricia Crowell, who handles marketing for Dell.com, also explained that Dell, a company which thrives on online sales, buys online advertising on large sites like Amazon.com that can offer them "smart" buttons that pop up when a user exhibits either a cookie pattern or content preference that makes them a good candidate for being a Dell customer. --Lindsey Simon

Photo from the tradeshow

Brain Actuated Technologies offers this headband, which allows the user to compute sans hands.

photograph by John Anderson


HOLLYWOOD GETS GRAPHIC

Sunday, 11am

Mod: Dick DeJong (Multimedia Associates)

Speakers: Grant Boucher (Station X Studios), TJ Nabors (Will Vinton Studios), Richard Payne (Station X Studios)

In the opinion of Station X Studios' special effects supervisor Richard Payne, "The only thing stopping people from breaking into Hollywood is the will to do it." No doubt, such a comment drew favorable reactions at this intimate panel, steered by the audience rudder into a discussion on how to get your work shown to the right people. But considering all the starving FX artists in the audience, isn't that just a bit idealistic? The graphics guru, who tops his résumé with work on Babylon 5 and a little movie called Titanic, concedes that willpower alone gets you nowhere without a beautifully rendered one-and-a-half-minute demo reel. For many, though, the cost of a high-end computer and equipment creates undue stress on the pocketbook. Thankfully, Payne confesses an alternative route to gaining an audience for your work: "A great way to solicit us is to show us still work on your Web site." And since Station X is currently backlogged with orders on such projects as Kevin Smith's upcoming Dogma, the company's CEO, Grant Boucher, encourages applicants to contact Station X via e-mail (http://www.stationxstudios.com).

Of course, not all of Hollywood is getting graphic. The most obvious exception stems from Fox TV's Eddie Murphy sensation, The PJs. With an order of 22 new episodes on her cue for next season, panelist T.J. Nabors continues to work against the computer-generated trend. Highly regarded for quality output and attention to detail, Vinton utilizes stop-motion and claymation photography for the bulk of their work. And work they do. With such corporate clients as Nissan and Hersheys, the quietly dominant studio is also recruiting mature artists with unique visions (http://www.vinton.com). -- Marcel Meyer


HOW THE FREE MARKET ENSLAVED THE NET: DOUG RUSHKOFF PRESENTATION

Sunday, 1:30pm

Doug Rushkoff smelled fear at this year's SXSW Interactive Festival. When he was here a couple of years ago, he says, he didn't pick up the same scent. Back then, it was unpredictable and creative, all fun and games. According to Rushkoff, this is because while the film and music scenes still focus on creative work, the interactive scene (and the Internet itself) is suddenly about business, IPOs, and venture capital. In the online gold rush of the last year, the creatives were trampled.

These days, the Net is a channel for commerce, and commerce makes us way tense. According to Rushkoff, the corporate conspiracy controls us, causing us anxiety with their warnings then resolving it by giving us a way out, i.e., whiter whites, no ring around the collar, or offering unattainable beauty and suggesting it could be ours with the right pair of slacks. Despite Rushkoff's broad knowledge, I'm a little skeptical of conspiracy theories, corporate or otherwise, because they assume that large organizations can be effective, cooperative, and secretive all at the same time -- a pretty tall order. However, Rushkoff's best point is that the net.commerce game is filling the new media professional's head with too much business and crowding out creativity and fun. He contends that the business scene is redefining the technology with a set of myths that offset our sense of empowerment. One myth, for instance, is that the Internet is simply for transmitting information, and not about creating community and building interpersonal relationships. I keep thinking, though, that the Net is not a medium but an environment in which many things are possible and likely to evolve.-- Jon Lebkowsky


BUILDING WOMEN'S COMMUNITY ONLINE FOR FUN AND PROFIT

Sunday, 3:30pm

Mod: Aliza Sherman (Cybergrrl)

Speakers: Heather Irwin (EstroNet), Ellen Pack (Women.com Networks), Heidi Swanson (ChickClick)

Being a girl is no excuse for not taking care of your finances."

What's the difference between an unbroken line of dark suits in the Venture Capital session and a buttery array of gal flavors in the Women's Community panel? Absolutely nothing, it turns out. Upon release from two hours of veecees talking financing options and revenue streams, I run down the hall to refresh at the "Building Women's Community Online for Fun and Profit," where they're talking about ...revenue streams and finances.

Perhaps it was Ellen Pack of Women.com's announcement that her company is partnering with Hearst that sparked the money talk. But the subject was eagerly embraced, since even women want to be paid for their work. Aliza Sherman of Cybergrrl, that most proficient of press magnets, asked everyone to share their revenue stream methods, and the stories flowed. Some highlights: If you have zero dollars for promotion, then self-promote, says Cybergrrl -- make friends with reporters and get all the press you can by being a good multimedia source for them; provide "branded" perks like the free e-mail service at ChickClick for viral marketing, says founder Heidi Swanson; barter banner ads with other sites; syndicate your content and charge for it when newspapers rip it off; seek out the women-run veecee firms so you don't get the "women don't use computers" crap; and finally, help each other out of self-preservation and to boost the online community, offers Heather Irwin of Estronet.

Naturally, we're all girls, so there were tons of "we're all in it together" platitudes tossed up and down the panel, but since Women.com is the longtime über-gürl -- to be both imitated and undone, the tension among the panelists was palatable. And it tasted pretty good, since competition between women's sites is the sign of a healthy market, and a panel that swaps financial war stories is being female in part, and human overall. -- Louisa C. Brinsmade

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