Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

MediaWatch Monday: Media Wars Over Conference Coverage Hurts Startups

Posted by Tom Foremski - September 20, 2010

I was at the DEMO Fall conference last week in Santa Clara, which is co-organized by the online news publication VentureBeat and IDG.

I noticed that there wasn't much media at the conference -- the press room was nearly deserted for much of the time I was there. (I also looked for media coverage that wasn't from VentureBeat and it was equally sparse.) Usually, DEMO attracts quite a large variety of publications and this is a key reason that companies are willing to pay the $18,500 fee, (if selected) to be at DEMO.

There was plenty of coverage from VentureBeat, of course. Every one of the 70 companies at DEMO received coverage from VentureBeat but coverage from other publications was sparse. For example, Techcrunch, which does a lot of startup coverage had just one story; ReadWriteWeb, which also covers this sector in great detail had 2 stories; while GigaOM had a fairly respectable 7 stories.

Techcrunch, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOM, run their own conferences, Techcrunch Disrupt for example is a direct competitor to DEMO.

It seems that the lack of coverage is due to the fact that rival publications now run rival conferences.

Does this mean that VentureBeat won't offer much coverage of Techcrunch Disrupt? And will the other conference makers follow suit?

If so, then they might all be shooting each other in the foot because companies pay the big bucks to get into these conferences because they get access to a lot of press all in one place.

One of the DEMO companies last week told me that they were disappointed there wasn't more press. Getting coverage from the co-hosts of the conference is nice but it doesn't carry the same weight as getting media coverage from independent media rather than the conference appointed media, which comes included in their fee.

I know very well how tough it is to make money in the media industry today. It's not only the old media that is suffering but the new media is too, and conferences have become a very important revenue stream.

But conference organizers used to be conference organizers and not media publications competing with other media publications.

Why would you expend your resources to cover a conference that is being covered by your competitor, who is also the organizer and who has better access to the companies and the panels?

Yes, you can still go along and find your own stories but it is no longer the level playing field that say, this week's Oracle OpenWorld conference provides.

All the media are on an equal footing at Oracle OpenWorld. Oracle isn't going to publish a bunch of its own articles about Oracle sessions, key executives, it won't cover its own keynotes and try to compete with the media attending.

But the economics of the media industry are forcing publications to cover their own conferences and this naturally puts off other publications, as we've seen with DEMO.

If every publication effectively boycotts rival conferences then that means there is less value for the companies exhibiting at these events. Which will lead to fewer companies at future events as they look for a better investment for their marketing dollars. And everyone loses out.

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