Business Insiders

Business Insider EIC Henry Blodget

In a previous post, I rattled off some of the myriad conferences one might attend for a glimpse of today’s media, tech, and marketing punditocracy. While client obligations have forced me to be more judicious in parsing where I spend my time, Business Insider’s Ignition conference, now in its third year, is one from which I’ve always derived some bankable enlightenment.

I suppose if AllThingsD or Allen & Co. invited me to their annual confabs, I’d make the requisite sacrifice. Also I was glad to see The New York Times finally getting in the conference game by leveraging the DealBook imprimateur.

Its Dec 12 inaugural event will feature Twitter’s Dick Costolo, Google’s Eric Schmidt, JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, and others too luminous to mention. (I won’t tell you how five years ago I implored NYTCO to mount its own branded conferences. We even took a meeting to explore options, but I digress.)

As mentioned, I spent the better part of Tuesday and Wednesday absorbing the wisdom shared by dozens of business and thought leaders at the Ignition conference, which was held in a fab space on 10th floor of the Time Warner Center. The choice of venue certainly made it easier for $TWX chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes to cap off the two-day affair. More on that below.

Event organizer Arden Pennell (“rhymes with fennell”) gets started on the planning for Ignition some six months in advance. As the topics evolve, speakers are invited — mostly of the industry leadership variety. Yes, Arden does entertain speaker suggestions from communications professionals, but she has little tolerance for junior PR types who don’t take the time to understand this event’s distinctive DNA. Here’s what she told me. Audio here. (RT: 2:15)

Gene Munster (Photo: Michael Seto for Business Insider)

What’s especially attractive about Ignition is the way in which Business Insider deploys its beat reporters, i.e., subject matter experts, to moderate or introduce the luminaries in their respective wheelhouses. For example, BI’s resident gadget guy and SAI editor Steve Kovach intro’d Apple fan boy Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster who never fails to captivate with $AAPL’s product pipeline.

His Ignition 2011 prediction for an Apple television in early 2013 has been amended to November 2013. He also said: “Apple is in good hands and should double down with Jony Ive.”

The publication’s deputy editor (and advertising lead) Jim Edwards took PepsiCo’s Sgiv Singh, Facebook’s Carolyn Everson and OMD’s Colin Sutton through their paces. Everson noted: “49% of all of our CPG campaigns have delivered 5x return on ad investment, 70% delivered 3x.” Edwards later chatted with the legendary Bob Pittman, now leading ClearChannel, and Macy’s CMO Martine Reardon who, to many people’s chagrin, reaffirmed that Macy’s is sticking with Trump.)

BI/SAI Startup Editor Alyson Shontell

Startup reporter and SAI editor Alyson Shontell, who’ll be joining my Dec 11 PCNY luncheon panel featuring startup reporters, had a one-on-one with Foursquare’s chief revenue officer, and later sat down with some hot VCs: David Lee, Founder and Managing Partner, SV Angel, Bijan Sabet, General Partner, Spark Capital, and David Tisch, Managing Director, TechStars NYC. Even SAI alum Dan Frommer, now an editor-at-large for ReadWrite, tackled a panel of pundits pontificating on the ROI of mobile publishing.

Deputy editor Nich Carlson, BI’s resident futurist, walked the audience through an illustrious (literally) panel discussion titled “the rise of the visual web,” took Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman through a conversation on who’ll own mobile, local commerce, grabbed a few minutes with Google+’s Bradley Horowitz, and still had time to probe Ross Levinsohn and Jon Miller, formerly CEOS of Yahoo! and AOL, respectively.

Greycroft’s Alan Patricof

I personally think Alyson and Nich should have combined their panels to have Foursquare’s CRO square off with Yelp’s CEO. Maybe next year. I also enjoyed Joseph Weisenthal chat with (a reinvented and still exuberant) Alan Patricof, MD of Greycroft, about his 43+ years in the business of investing in emerging companies. BI piece here.

As impressive as many of these folks are — at least to those of us toiling in the media, tech and marketing realms —  Business Insider founder & editor-in-chief Henry Blodget took the interviewing reigns for the really marquis names.  And guess what? He’s a natural inquisitor with an uncanny way of charming and disarming his way to the crux of the issue at hand, without ruffling too many moguls’ feathers.

It takes considerable chutzpah and a deft touch, for example, to challenge Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes on Bewkes’ assertion that all is well and good in TV-land, or force a clearly beleaguered Andrew Mason to defend his role as CEO of Groupon on the eve of the board’s meeting to consider his ouster.  (Mason survived, btw.)

It wasn’t just Bewkes and Mason who sustained the Blodget treatment. He also had time with a very smart Jeff Wiener, CEO of LinkedIn, Jill Abramson, managing editor of The New York Times, and Startup Nation booster Steve Case, CEO of Revolution and founder of AOL. What follows are some notable quotables from the Blodget sessions (thank you Twitter):

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner

Jeff Weiner, CEO, LinkedIn

On careers: “I do genuinely believe you can will things to happen.” 

Our vision is to create economic opportunity for the 3.3B people in the global workforce” 

Blodget to Weiner: “Now you are a God among men…”

Weiner: We’re more focused on long-term EBITDA margins. 

Today in low 20% range, expanding over time. 

The IPO was only stepping stone…it’s a singular event…like a marriage 

On IPO pricing: “We sought to attract long-term investors who understood our platform. 

On “endorsements”: Lightweight recommendation mechanism. Very strong start, over 50M/week, 300M since launch. 

We recently invited 150 “luminaries” to post on LinkedIn. Richard Branson is now most followed 

Our value for users is in building one’s “professional identity” and sharing information 

We aspire to parse company data to train the workforce for the jobs of tomorrow… 

Only a slim minority of LinkedIn usage is generated by job seekers. 

We’re really about “a professional graph”…we’ve mapped relationships up to three degrees. 

We want to be the essential source for professional insights…we also want to be ubiquitous. 

On LinkedIn you will only find professional content. 187 million members, growing at a rate of two per second.

Henry Blodget and NYTimes’s Jill Abramson

Jill Abramson, managing editor, The New York Times

On how she’d like to be remembered: “I protected and expanded the depth & breadth of news report…I kept the place straight.

We’d love to have Nate Silver continue to be part of the NYT family & to expand on some of the things he does. 

It’s a myth about the big disparity in age from paper to digital readers. Print upper 40’s, digital around 40. 

Blodget to Abramson: What is the date the paper will be killed? 

There is a big appetite for both products. 800K+ still subscribe to the paper 

It matters to know what the readers want in determining coverage.

On digital news personnel: 300-350 mostly digital of the 1200 in newsroom; reporters are platform agnostic. 

The same newsroom produces a ‘news report’ for all platforms…It’s given us a leg up.” 

On BBC controversy: On BBC controversy: It’s not the newsroom to judge CEO’s qualifications…I’m not Joe Nocera’s or The Public Editor’s boss…I don’t think our public editor actually looked at our coverage of the BBC…

Revolution’s Steve Case

Steve Case, CEO of Revolution, founder of AOL

On $AMZN’s LivingSocial (and Groupon): They’ll have bumps in road, but they can be transformative. 

On his investment strategy: More than half the economy has NOT been disrupted by the Internet. 

$AOL, $FB were speculative investments. 

The Jobs Act (crowdfunding) has lessened the reg burden for startups. 

Things have changed in last 20 years: When we [AOL] went public, we raised $10M w/ a market cap of $70M. 

On immigration: “the politics of entrepreneurship/innovation are being trumped by the politics of immigration.” 

Pass the bi-partisan Startup 2.0 Act

Groupon’s Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason, founder/CEO, Groupon

As founder, CEO & a large shareholder, I care far more about the success of $GRPN than I do about my CEO role. 

We just launched in NY a browseable, searchable marketplace, ie., date night deals…

We will not try to out-Amazon $AMZN. $GRPN is about curation. We’ll show one TV, not 1000’s of TVs.

Trend lines toward mobile have been staggering, one-third of Groupon’s North American transactions are on mobile devices.

On “Goods”: We’ll sell 30K Garmin GPS devices in eight hours. A first for manufacturers to move that much product.

Blodget likens his compares his past travails with Mason’s who sardonically replied “It’s awesome, Henry!”

We’ll look back at these war stories and be proud that we had the opportunity to prove the world wrong

The hardest time was during quiet period after filing the S1. We’ve built up a resiliency to the negative noise.

Candor and straightforwardness will always be best policy.

Stock will reflect long-term performance.

Blodget to Mason: Is board going to fire you? Mason: Stock down 80% since IPO. It would be weird if not discussed. 

Blodget and Time Warner chairman/CEO Jeff Bewkes

Jeff Bewkes, chairman and CEO, Time Warner

Blodget to Bewkes: Should $GOOG buy $TWX? Jeff Bewkes: Why? It’s kinda like AOL-Time-Warner. It doesn’t help.

We’re doing $5B/year in production on our networks & TV biz. (vs $100M for YouTube, Netflix…)

I think Netflix has a future. It’s good place to make available syndicated, serialized shows.

Blodget to Bewkes: TV is still incredibly annoying w/ 500 channels… Bewkes concedes: the interface needs work

Remember how great TV was when you were growing up? It’s back! It’s in your hands.

# subscribers-up, minutes/day-up, program budgets-up, program quality-up, cable nets earnings-way up. 

The big story is TV. Ratings are not tanking, they’re going up. Aggregate for cable nets…up.

On CNN vs. HBO: prime time ad revenue for CNN is only 10% of that network’s overall revenue CNN made over $600M this year, double digit earnings growth. CNN is the biggest news service online.

On Jeff Zucker’s reported hiring as CNN prexy: We’re going to have an announcement soon.

And they did.

TWC CEO David Kenny

Finally, I had an opportunity to talk with two publishing industry giants — David Kenny, chief executive officer of The Weather Channel and Larry Kramer, president & publisher of USA Today — about changing ad revenue models, mobile, and what lies ahead.

Here’s what TWC David Kenny had to say.  Audio here. RT: 5:44.) And below is a video clip of Larry Kramer.

All photos/video/audio: Peter Himler (Canon PowerShot SX20 IS/Olympus DS2)