Thoughts On The Portable and New Media Expo 2007

Looking back at this year’s third Portable and New Media Expo, I have mixed feelings. There’s no question that the event was well organized and both Tim and Emile Bourquin are to be congratulated for a smooth running show, a packed set of sessions, a brilliant concert Saturday evening and programming a number of ‘evening events,’ but something about the event just wasn’t quite right for me. And no, I can’t describe it as more than a feeling.

As a commercial podcaster (and VP at The Podcast Network), sessions on building and reaching audience, monetizing podcasts both appealed to me, and reflect the maturing nature of podcasting. While Michael Geoghegan’s “Podcasting is Dead” was a provocative title, his message that we should all be muti-media discipline does bear a closer examination; the argument is correct but when the mainstream is only starting to switch on to podcasts the last thing we want to do is run to the ‘next big thing’ and leave the masses stranded.

Partly I think the focus on video and the sometimes crass commercialization has left me cold. In the first half of this year I came to terms with the idea that video is sexier, and I was an audiophile (not withstanding the playing I do on YouTube) who would never get major press, so perhaps this state of mind led me to being contented and sit back a touch at the Expo. Nothing made me want to go home and get started straight away on *something* which has happened in previous years.

I think next year’s move to Las Vegas, renaming the event as the New Media Expo, and I suspect an increased focus on the B2B component (acknowledging the C2C nature of the Podcamp movement), is a smart move on the part of the Bourquins. It’s the natural growth area of the Expo, and I can see more blue and white chip companies becoming involved (or re-involved in some cases) and it will establish the medium as a valid one to be in. That’s good. Just a shame it’s in August…

Ewan Spence and Matthew Ebel, by CC Chapman
Picture by CC Chapman

Somewhere along the line though, all these businesses have sucked the maverick “all for one” nature of podcasting away from the genre. As a group of individuals ready to change the world just because they can, the first Expo was a magical time of discovery, the second (last year) solidified all the ideas we had and everyone pushing the envelope in different directions and helping everyone else reach the edge. This year I didn’t feel any of that. And yes, that’s the classic “Forming, Storming, Norming, Dorming” of group management.

But it was the last night, the Saturday, which swept everything away, and the community spirit, the characters, the people, the ‘what the hell can-do spirit’ suddenly emerged like an Autobot Butterfly.

And I can pin down exactly where it happened for me. 9.30pm in the Ontario Marriot Bar. After coming back from the Podsafe Artist Concert organized by Tim and Emile, I’m having the steak for diner, and Laura Burstein bursts into the bar, demanding the TV switches to Speed TV because the race is about to start. Which surprised me, first of all because the hotel rooms didn’t have Speed TV, otherwise I would have been able to watch the F1 Japanese Grand Prix qualifying the night before; and secondly because this was an *American* wanting to watch Formula One.

Lo and behold, Speed arrives, Pete, Laura and I settle in to Barfly mode for the race, and the handful of Grand Prix fans, including the aforementioned Michael Geoghegan, US F1 Fan number 2 (ignoring the fact that he thinks Damon Hill is cool), begin to create a wall of noise at the most exciting Grand Prix in years – all magnified by the realization I could watch a race with Hamilton leading without having to listen to ITV-F1’s James Allen.

One victory and raising of the roof later, and the bar is nicely filled up with more podcasters watching the crazy Europeans who race cars in the rain, and the Marriot is filled with lots of laughs, jokes, friendly high jinxs, and the spirit I remember from the last two years. Ah yes, this is what I love about the Expo, and I was so glad that it happened.

And then… Half past midnight, and Linda Mills asks CC Chapman and I why we hadn’t sorted out recording an Accident Mash at the event – the Mash is where CC’s Accident Hash and my TPN Rock becomes a dual-host riot of music, discussion and humour – I look at CC. CC looks at me, and we have the “High School Musical” moment of “we could put on the show… right here!”

Five minutes later, CC is gathering as many artists he can find, I’m MacGyvering together a mixing desk from spit-balls, bailing wire, headphone splitters and resistors, and everyone is informed at the top of my voice to rack the drinks in and head out to the venue for every impromptu podcaster event at the PME… poolside.

Accident Mash, Poolside
Picture by Ed Roberts

Did we get the show recorded? Who played? What did we all sing along to? Who made guest appearances… Find out tomorrow…