I spent most of last week down in San Diego at the Wall Street Journal Conference, D: All Things Digital. I've attended the D conference every year since its inception 4 years ago. The conference is run by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher and primarily takes the form of Walt and Kara interviewing CEO's of major corporations about innovation. In the past, those CEOs have come primarily from the technology and communications sectors. This year, however, there was a larger representation of traditional media companies (Disney, Discovery, Martha Stewart, Random House, etc.) talking about a favorite theme of all D's, past and present -- convergence.
This year, more than any before it, the talk of D seemed to acquiesce around a single area of interest. The vast majority of speakers at this year's Wall Street Journal Conference spoke about the digitization of video and the ways in which digital video is changing the media landscape. This shared focus was so stark that it lead me to believe that perhaps this year's WSJ Conference should have been renamed "DV: All Things Digital Video."
As could be expected, the representatives of New Media spent their fair share of time talking about digital video. Bill Gates made clear that Microsoft is extremely focused on the online/offline video experience. Not only is Microsoft working on better approaches to video search and display (Windows Media format is in a bitter battle with Flash for online video format dominance, although I'd give Flash a decided edge at this time), but it is also betting pretty significantly on the home convergence with it's Media Center software which will gain significant distribution as a part of the Vista release. Meanwhile, Marissa Mayer and Terry Semel were in now way willing to cede the video market to Microsoft. Both Google and Yahoo are working hard to bulk up their online video experience with both professional and user generated content.
It would appear from the conversations at D that even the Old Media companies have gotten wise to the user generated content revolution. Judith McHale, from Discovery Communications, talked about their efforts to leverage user generated content for some of their travel programs. Susan Lyne, CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, discussed the power of user demonstrated crafts and cooking projects. Even Al Gore, when not musing about the arcane history of the printing press, talked about his television network's explicit strategy to leverage user generated content for traditional media programming. And Disney's Bob Iger, not to be outdone by the old media posse, stressed not only user generated content but the capacity to play that content on wired and mobile devices alike.
On the device front, while Sony has a powerful foothold in the digital video space, Howard Stringer spent much of his time talking about the eBook Reader that Sony launched at the D conference, not about their digital video solutions. Moreover, it doesn't look like the two segments will likely come together any time soon -- Sony's eBook platform is based upon eInk's technology which is energy efficient but extremely slow switching; therefore, it was clear that the eBook Reader will not be used for video any time soon. On the other hand, the conversation with Antonio Perez made clear that Kodak's cameras are quickly moving from still to moving picture capture. Kodak has quietly claimed the lead in the digital camera category and appears poised to quietly attack the digital video camera market as well.
On a related note, I spent some time with Jonathan Kaplan, CEO of Pure Digital Technologies, at the event and was given the chance to try out Pure Digital's new hundred dollar (or so) video camera that Walt has raved about. It really is a great little device for quick and easy digital video capture and download. The device has a built in USB connector and could not be easier to connect and download video to your computer. I used the Pure Digital video camera to record some video of my 9 month old niece and quickly and easily uploaded it to the new Six Apart blogging platform, Vox (Vox used to be referred to as Comet but has recently been launched to the public as Vox). It is clear to me from the early activity on Vox that sharing video will become one of the predominant features on the service, particularly as Vox gives you more granular controls over who can see your family movies than is available with a traditional blogging platform. To be clear, I am an investor in Six Apart and Vox, so I am certainly biased, but I could not be more excited about the ability to post video of my kids on Vox, knowing that only my parents and siblings can see those videos when viewing my Vox blog.
One thing became very clear to me as I sat and listened to CEO after CEO sing the praises of digital video -- the digital video train has left the station and anyone who hasn't yet made a bet on a particular online video technology is not likely to reap the benefits of this round of online video innovation. On the other hand, I remain really bullish about those bets that were placed on digital video at the front end of the DV revolution. I made one such bet on VideoEgg, which I continue to believe is uniquely situated to act as an onramp for video to the web. During one lunch at the Wall Street Journal Conference, Chad Hurley, founder and CEO of YouTube, was sitting at a table with me and the rest of the VideoEgg board (Cliff Boro, Howard Morgan and Josh Kopelman). We should have called Josh Felser, CEO of Grouper, over from the table next to ours where he was eating and we could have had a mini-digital video summit.
It will be very interesting to see what transpires on the digital video front between now and next year's Wall Street Journal Conference. I imagine that there will be lots more to talk about as video continues to dominate not only the mind share but the bandwidth of the web experience. There is no question, the digital video revolution will be televised.