CES: Traditional Media Brands 'Sucking Up' Tech More Than Ever

The rapidly shifting world of media content and brands offers seemingly boundless opportunity — but you'd better act fast.

That was the central theme of a wide-ranging, high-level conversation at the Westgate Theater in the Brand Matters track at CES. Moderator Wenda Harris Millard, president and COO of MediaLink, took on the question of how companies define themselves — as more media- or tech-oriented.

"We definitely describe ourselves as a media company, but we are sucking up technology like you would not believe," said Bob Sauerberg, president of Conde Nast. When the print-based company began 101 years ago, he noted, "Editors figured out exactly what people should think about, and what they should be reading. Today, technology gives us the data to give us that taste of what people feel in their hearts is cool, allows us to scale it, and that is magic."

Thinking more like a tech company could lead to breakthroughs, argued Randy Freer, president and COO of Fox Networks Group. He gave the example of commercial interruptions on broadcast TV, which have remained largely the same for 60 years. "We know consumers don't like it but we keep focusing on that same commercial interruption, and we keep adding to it," he said. "We have to keep working on, what is that ad unit? As an industry we have to do a much better job ... of not feeding consumers what they don't want and don't like."

Increasingly, agreed Margo Georgiadis, president of the Americas for Google, the most shared pieces of content online are ads. But their runtimes are longer than traditional 30-second spots and they tell more full-bodied stories. "What exactly is an advertiser vs. a content provider? We're allowing consumers to tell us," she said. "We are so excited that advertisers have the technology now to really connect. There has been a huge renaissance in creativity."

Strategy and financial chess moves gain extra importance given all of these shifts. Jay Rasulo, executive VP and CFO of Disney, said the company's successful recent acquisitions of Maker Studios, Lucasfilm and Marvel Entertainment were more content-oriented but the company is looking at other ways to grow. "I wouldn't be surprised to see future acquisitions focused on distribution technology," he said.

Deborah Wahl, a noted former automotive exec who just joined McDonald's as U.S. CMO, said her first nine months have felt like "nine years in automotive terms." Plus, she added, "People eat three times a day. They buy a new car maybe once every three years. ... So we are on a journey at McDonald's. We are really looking to transform."