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State of the Media - Simon van Wyk - Hothouse Interactive



Simon Van Wyk is the founder of Hothouse Interactive - one of Australia's earliest and premier digital media agencies - and a regular commentator on the media industry.  Simon has been invited by the AMAA to deliver this year's key note address at their upcoming Accountability in Ad Spend Conference.

Here we ask Simon to offer a preview of his presentation and his views on our fast changing industry....

  • To see further information on the AMAA's Accountability in Ad Spend Conference in Sydney on October 23 - & secure tickets - please click here.

Accountability in Ad Spend Conference - Sydney Ocotber 23

Please tell us about yourself, how you came to our industry and your business?

I started in the Interactive Communications business with CD-ROM publishing and as that business migrated online so did we.   We started Hothouse in 1995 and because of our CD-ROM publishing bent we started immediately as a web publisher. 

Microsoft was our first client followed by NineMSN and BigPond.   We cut out teeth in the media industry and we think that's shaped what we are today.

As the keynote speaker at the upcoming Accountability in Ad Spend Day (Sydney – Oct 23) what will you be speaking about?

I'm going to talk about time.  It's the one thing that's finite and because it's finite the way we use our time has more impact on the media and our consumption of media than the change in technology. 

Time pressures have driven our migration online with newspapers and magazines.  TV has been impacted a little already but I believe the impact on this industry will be massive because it's the last outpost which still thinks it's OK to waste a customers time.

The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Era of Change’ – what has been the most significant change in our industry during your career and why?

I know it's almost a cliché but the most significant change is a relatively recent one and it's the advent and adoption of smartphones.  It's the most significant change because almost everyone has some kind of mobile device and it's always with us. 

It's a massive change to how we shop, how we consume content and the role of advertising.  It's also inherently social and that's something that started in the last 10 years and now dominates our behaviour.

I first interviewed you 3 years ago for Digital Ministry and again this year for your 2013 forecasts – With the benefit of hindsight please offer a general comment on your previous answers?

I think the 2013 predictions were OK.  I said marketing would get more accountable and costs would come under pressure.  Well I think that's partly right. 

I'm still not sure digital gets the attention it deserves in the boardrooms of Australia but I think that's coming.  More boards will be on the look out for board members with solid digital experience in 2014.

And 3 years ago! Well I think the TV issue has moved faster than I thought.  It seems that only 71,000 people watched the final episode of Breaking Bad on Foxtel the rest (more that 500,000 people) downloaded it on Bitttorrent.  The TV model is broken and it's unravelling pretty quickly.  Channel Ten cannot get traction with their TenPlay service because savvy consumers have gone somewhere else.

The war on talent is still underway but now it's a war between agencies and their clients.  The clients are all pulling digital talent in-house and it's difficult for agencies to compete.

And what did I get wrong.  We had a growing and successful regional media business (www.ourpatch.com.au) that got caught up in the Google Panda changes.   We lost more than 50% of our traffic and that killed our ambitions for a US launch.

Give us an overview of our current industry – what state is it in?

The digital agency business is in a state of flux.  It's moving faster than ever and bringing the talent on board, keeping people trained and motivated is extremely difficult. 

There are also more digital agencies in Sydney than milk bars (true - not a joke) and it's difficult for clients to separate the wheat from the chaff.  The demand for services is growing so that's a good thing, the challenges of delivering them are growing as well.

What is the most important consideration  for marketers and advertisers when choosing niche & b2b publishers to reach their audiences?

It's not just about reaching your audience it's about getting them to see and respond to you advertising.   So it's about context.   Let's say I'm on an adventure website – you'd expect me to me interested in tents and other hiking equipment but not if I've just bought these things.  But if you knew I'd spent the last week researching backpacks a retail offer might just be the right context.  Work on context and the *technology is available to help deliver the right message.

*See marketing automation and optimisation services such as IgnitionOne

What advice can you offer to publishers to successfully navigate through our constantly changing industry? 

The industry is changing but people are not.  We're really hardwired in a pretty predictable manner.   We always look for the easiest way to do something.  If it's easier to watch a TV show on Apple TV than some media organisations site they'll go to Apple. 

Publishers need to employ a little common sense and work out how to get their corporate agenda out of the way and to focus on delivering the best user experience.  That's the only way to hang of to an audience and that's really all a media company has – an audience.

Publishers also need to understand the business they are in.  If the newspapers had understood they were in the less than glamorous, rather daggy classifieds industry rather than the important "influencing the agenda business" they be in a lot less trouble.  When the FTA TV stations realise they are a cheap and efficient way to get content to users they might stand a chance.  Right now the Channels think they are important.  They are not it's the content that matters.

Evan Williams said, the internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.” It’s not a utopia. It’s not magical. It’s simply an engine of convenience.  Publishers need to really understand what this means to their audience.

Tell us about a campaign or ad you’ve recently seen which nailed it?

I think the data marketers are the only ones who really get the Internet.  I'm always impressed that the smart marketers monitor my behaviour and target me accordingly. 

I don't have free to air TV or Foxtel I get all my TV from Apple TV or Netflix and I hardly listen to the radio so my only exposure to advertising is online.   When I'm actually shopping for something targeted advertising becomes really useful.  I think that nails it.

How do you keep up – what resources do you use and recommend?

It's not possible to keep up.  The industry is so wide and moving so fast that you have to pick a few topics and keep up with those.   I use a few subscription services – for example Forrester does a great job with coverage of the big strategic issues.  I look a Techcrunch daily for the adtech and start-up industry.  I use Prismatic to curate content that reflects my own interests and I get a rich vein of stuff from my social media contacts.

  • To see further information on the AMAA's Accountability in Ad Spend Conference in Sydney on October 23 - & secure tickets - please click here.

Accountability in Ad Spend Conference - Sydney Ocotber 23

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Further Resources

  • - MediaScapes - well known visual guides to a growing range of Australian media channels including digital media, cinema, television, outdoor and mobile billboard media, digital media expenditure - & more!
  • - What's On - the best and most worthwhile events, training courses and awards for the Australian media and advertising industry

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