Interview with Tony Perkins, AlwaysOn

My interview today is with Tony Perkins, founder of AlwaysOn and former founder of the Red Herring Magazine. AlwaysOn Hollywood 2006 is being held here in May, and I thought it would be interesting to hear from Tony about the conference and his opinions on technology and content.

Ben Kuo: Thanks for the interview. Why AlwaysOn Hollywood – and what's the idea behind the conference?

Tony Perkins: Well, we believe that the consumer is now leading innovation. The conference is dedicated to new applications, services, technology, and devices that are driving the behavior of the new generation, and entertainment content is the driving the next wave on innovation.

BK: It looks like there's a lot of attention again on the convergence of content and technology. What's different this time than the boom/bust?

TP: I think there are two realities that have set in—one is that the dream of taking media entertainment on the go has finally come. There are now well designed cell phones, with text messaging, email, and an organizer, all web enabled. The time of taking entertainment on the go has finally arrived, and the mobile web has really opened up an explosive economic opportunity for traditional producers. I think that was all fairly predictable, and just a matter of time before finally happening. The other thing that is really interesting, coming out of left field, is the whole consumer generated content phenomenon. Consumers, the "IM generation", are basically taking over for the "PC generation" and driving innovation. If you look at all the hot deals—whether it's Google, MySpace, or Skype—it's all behavior of not the PC geeks but the new generation. That's where the money is. The mobile content explosion is now happening. ABC is cutting deals with Steve Jobs, and people are running around wildly to get in bed with each other, but at the same time there's this growing shadow of consumer generated media—where kids are actually spending more time creating and reading each others content than reading major media. It's a major disruptive force.

With the conference we are paratrooping the disruptors into town, and parachuting them into the Hotel Roosevelt to show what we've got, and how you are going to take entertainment media and create, and run, and remix, and post information all sorts of ways. The whole world down there is going to be blown wide open. It's the final frontier of content. We could deliver content on television, but you had to be sitting in front of the TV. You could put content on radio but distribution was monopolized by huge conglomerates, because it's so expensive to distribute and market that content. We've seen content distributed during the first ten years of the Internet, but it's been one way and uninteresting. Now, it's been delivered via multimedia, and is on your cell phone. Maybe in the future there will be a "distribution force field" that surrounds you, but mobile from today's perspective is the final frontier.

BK: What's AlwaysOn up to nowadays – it looks like you started on blogging and are back full circle to a magazine and conferences?

TP: Our ideas really reflect our editorial view, which is, I think, that the lesson of the bubble is you don't want to be drunk on the Internet. You have to see it for what it is. I've been writing on the IM generation, and there's a concern that kids are all online and not interacting one and one—which is basically not true. Computers are much more of a connecting rather than an alienating force.

Our magazine is a quarterly, and shows the best of the network from the previous quarter. It's gotten us a lot of publicity because it's so retro. It serves as a brochure and showcase of what we do on our brand. It's very sponsorable, and makes a profit—we can contract it out and not carry the overhead if we were a monthly. It makes money and gets our brand out there for people who might not find it online, plus advertisers like it. I believe in a mix. For conferences, I think there's a lot of value to have 60 CEOs of really hot companies pitching in front of you, if you're in that market.

BK: How has AlwaysOn's business model changed since your launch back in 2003?

TP: We've taken steps largely because the media business got devastated. The media business went through its own form of Hiroshima back in 2003, when I started building the site. We were focusing online, understanding that online is where you had to compete. I really saw the long term value of the whole participatory blogging environment. We found that quality, plus social networking and transparency of the members was a natural step. But I knew that it was very nascent, and we had to be patient while various psychological barriers were overcome. But the facts proved out--people are voting for their peer generated content, and feel that it is very often as legitimate as or much more so than mainstream media. I always have given my non-puritanical view of how it all fits together—I think there is always room for great films, great books, great investigative reporters, great writing, and great copy editing. So I think you're going to sit there and say—hey, along with the New York Times there's these two bloggers in Iraq, that are living there and who I think are smart and witty and give me a real sense of what's going on there. That's here to stay.

BK: Thanks for the interview!


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