NYC: The Media Capital in 2020?

Today, I attended the kick-off dinner to the NYC Economic Development Center’s efforts to shape and support NYC’s position as the media capital of the world for the next decade.  The event was held at Gracie Mansion, and included 40-50 of the media industry’s most notable names.  It was a great cross-section – from traditional media to the largest ad agencies to the newest digital media properties to deans of the leading NY universities to various NYC venture capitalists – all assembled to discuss the changes affecting the industry, and specifically how the city can create long term initiatives to ensure NYC remains the media capital in 2020. 

The city seems to take this project quite seriously.  It’s hired Oliver Wyman as lead consultants, it is setting up a website that will leverage the latest technologies to facilitate the dialogue, and has set up a rigorous program by which to have regular discourse and detailed action items.   

The session was kicked off by Mayor Bloomberg, who spent much of his time talking about the need for hope and the belief that the bad times would eventually yield a strong recovery.  He made a number of interesting points, including highlighting an article by Fareed Zakariya that talked about how Canada has had zero bank failures, managed consistent government budget surpluses, has home ownership at the same rate as America without the tax deductibility of mortgage interest payments, and has been growing as a country largely on the backs of sound fiscal policy, common sense and an open immigration policy.   He mentioned a number of interesting statistics about NYC, including that it had more fashion houses than Paris, and took the occasional shot at the folks in Albany.  He also pointed out NYC’s fiscal discipline in cutting expenses in the budget by $3 billion.  It felt like he was beginning his campaign.

After the Mayor spoke, members of the NYC EDC set the stage about the media industry in NYC.  Some relevant facts:

·         Media is the second largest industry in NYC, behind financial services;

·         Media employs over 300,000 people, representing 10% of the total, and over $30 billion in revenues;

·         The 305 large and very large media businesses accounted for only 50% of the media jobs in the city, the remaining 50% came from the 15,000 small and medium sized businesses in the city (driving the point home that supporting innovation and small businesses are high on the agenda).

We then transitioned to a plenary session discussing the positives and negatives of doing business in NYC, and the key issues we would need to deal with to ensure the “Media NYC 2020” vision.  The highlights included:

·         NYC is still “the place” young people want to be, for its energy, arts, culture, and unique mix of people, and that is an important characteristic to maintain and support;

·         The lines between media and technology are blurring, and there is a strong need to improve the quality of the engineering and development talent to face this growing trend, lest Silicon Valley keep all the technology spoils to itself;

o   Many examples of how media firms have simply put their technology development in different geographies because they could not find the needed talent in NYC;

o   A universal sentiment that NYC needed to establish a “Media Center” that brought together academia, industry, and the bleeding media technology issues in a similar manner that MIT has done for Boston/Cambridge or Stanford for the Valley;

o   Discussions about creating engineering scholarship programs to attract the best and smartest students from around the globe to the city;

o   Discussions about tax incentives and credits for startups to combat both the higher cost of living and the more lucrative salaries that financial services firms had paid techies.  One radical idea of creating tax free zones as some other foreign countries have done to foster community and innovation;

·         In the debate about whether the city should support “traditional media” or “new media”, an acknowledgement by several that “big media” could not lead the charge, as it is facing a fundamental shift in market forces and will be permanently in a cost optimization mode for its legacy products.  The key is not who should be protected, but that the industry of content creation, aggregation, distribution, and monetization be supported without regard to old or new so that NYC maintains its status as media capital.

It was an interesting night filled with plenty of good conversation.  What other suggestions would you have for the folks at the NYC EDC?  Please post them here, and I’ll be sure to pass them along!

Improving Our Infrastructure, One Election Booth At a Time

What a week!  There has been an enormous amount of press coverage, both domestically and internationally, about the implications of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States.  I do not think they can be overstated.  This election is a testament to the ideals of this country and the power of empassioned masses.   While I am a registered Independent, and prefer to keep my politics out of my regular dialogues, the avid traveler in me cannot help but feel great about the universal refrain of support and acknowledgement from every corner of the globe.  I am quite hopeful in a period that only offers bleak challenges.

Amongst many of President Obama’s policies, one that particularly resonated was the call to upgrade and improve our infrastructure.  Obama’s use of technology has been well documented, from his campaigns online to his engagement with Facebook audiences to his mass SMS message to campaign volunteers acknowledging their work before delivering his acceptance speech.  I believe this country has not come close to generating the efficiencies possible by leveraging the latest information technology.  Nowhere was this more evident than at the voting booth where I cast my vote.

On an electrifying Tuesday morning, rather than casting my absentee vote, I walked over to the Prince Georges Hotel on 28th Street in Manhattan to cast my vote in person.  The line rounded the corner, but this was my day to participate in all this country offers.  I waited patiently for an hour before getting inside.  When I entered the hotel, I felt like I had been thrown back centuries.  I was greeted by a woman who had a crumpled up piece of paper with handwritten numbers, which would identify which machine I would stand in line to vote from.   These numbers were misaligned and looked like chicken scratch.  She directed me to the line for “12”. 

The line for “12” overlapped with the lines for “28”, “51”, “13”, and others.  They wound and zigzagged around each other in a swirling mess.  Once I got to the front, I was greeted by a woman who checked my ID and pointed me towards a booth.  The booth itself was enormous.  Twice the size of those usual “Polaroid” photo booths that you would take pictures in as a kid at an amusement park.  Inside this big, old grey piece of metal were columns for the candidates.  Next to the names were manual black knobs.  At the bottom of this machine was a massive (3 foot long) rusted red lever.  I had no idea what I was supposed to do, and still uncertain after reading the three point instruction at the top.   Turns out you have to take this massive lever and push it all the way to the right.  Then you had to turn each manual knob counter clockwise for the candidates you wanted.  And when you were done, you pulled the lever all the way to the left again.  After that, you stood there and hoped something happened.  There was no feedback, no click, no guidance.  I walked out scratching my head, until another woman came over, pulled some other lever in the back to reset the machine for the next person.  It somehow implicitly validated I did something.  Nothing about the registration of my vote was tied in the machine to who I was (ie, did I vote?).  Maybe some manual reconciliation happens afterwards.  And I couldn’t tell how this machine could possibly do anything but offer very high level total calculations via an internal abacus.  All in all, this machine could have easily been built in the era of the Guttenberg press back in the 1400s. 

My tiny experience at the voting booth could have gone radically different, and generated massive savings all around.  The first issue that struck me was the opportunity for human error.  From the first woman and her hand written notes, to the swirling chaotic lines, to the archaic machine, each of these had material >5% chance of errors, especially in light of the volumes of people.  Compounded, it could lead to material errors in votes – the fundamental priviledge of our citizenhood!  Second, there is a huge manual effort that could be entirely eliminated by using a modern booth as available in select other states.  No counting votes, or manually inputting data into computers, it would happen instantaneously.  This could lead to substantive savings if implemented in a standardized manner on a national basis.  Third, while safeguarding the privacy and sanctity of the actual vote, is the opportunity to take the information from these machines to understand and improve our democratic process. 

Technology cannot cure all ails.  It is not magic.  But if used effectively it can transform how we leverage and process information.  This little example is one of an infinite number of inefficiencies that exist within our government.  Even the smallest of focus on these can lead to substantive productivity and cost improvements that can go towards any number of the major issues facing the country.  I am hopeful our new President elect will push the drive to modernizing our state.