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Kevin Ryan at ad:tech

The final keynote of 2006's ad:tech New York was titled "1996 vs. 2006: The Web Then and Now" and was given by Kevin Ryan, founder of DoubleClick and current CEO of ShopWiki. The focus of the speech could be best described as, "look how much has changed; look how much has stayed the same."

Ryan scoured over 100 articles about the Internet from 1996 and found five things being said or asked of internet companies:

  • When are you going to make money?
  • Advertising will never work.
  • Why is it all junk?
  • Existing media companies are too powerful, startups can't break through.
  • The infrastructure will never support the load.

Looking at these comments now, it is almost a joke. Google alone disqualifies all these statements, nevermind hundreds of other successful Internet companies. Ryan gave his own anecdote, "When I quit my job and joined a startup, my mother said I was crazy." Obviously, DoubleClick proved its worth.

One important change that Kevin Ryan stressed was how inexpensive bandwith, hardware and software has gotten in the last ten years, "It really makes launching any site so much cheaper." He believes this will allow further segmentation of markets and new companies to spring up to target niches, "It allows you to do a ping-pong site which before wasn't feasible."

He also described how the Internet has threatened old media. In '96 it was magazines and yellowpages that were threatened; in 2000 it was radio that was under attack from Napster (and now iPod); and now he believes television is next in line—with YouTube and other video sites, and the coming technology of IPTV. He believes that Internet advertising will continue to grow, but magazine and radio advertising is in trouble, "Yes it is that bad. You guys are doomed."

For all of the changes on the Web in the last ten years, Ryan also emphasized what had stayed the same. He believes the fundamentals of advertising hasn't changed—reaching, targeting, and context all matter, "but purchase behavior trumps everything." Startups will continue to innovate where huge companies do not—though they will wind up being acquired once they hit pay dirt (rather than the cashing-out via IPOs in the 90's).

One surprising statemend he made came toward the end of the keynote. With his exclamation that "Product is Everything," he said that marketing is becoming less important. Because of bloggers, because of information being widely available to the consumer, marketers can't control the message. Old media's monopoly on the distribution of information is gone. Ryan knows that the Web is growing faster than other media, but believes there are no great transformations ahead, "The ecosystem of the Internet is in perfect health."

These ideas seem a fitting end to ad:tech, a look back at the past and a look down at the present. Do you agree with Ryan's statements?