Summing Up TheGrill 2011 — a Buffet for the Engaged Brain

Spend a day and a half talking to some of the smartest people about the changes in the entertainment and media and you'll feel full, too

Wow. Spending a day and a half talking to some of the smartest people about the changes in the entertainment and media industries kind of makes you feel like very full, like your brain has been at a buffet.

At the second annual Grill leadership conference, we had everyone from Arianna Huffington defending the content strategy at AOL to “Modern Family’s” Steve Levitan giving the back story on his kids-interrupting-sex scene that won him an Emmy on Sunday, to an analysis of how the UltraViolet cloud will work, placing all our DVD libraries in the cloud.

Among the highlights for me was hearing Terry Semel, former CEO of Yahoo and Warner Brothers chairman, making a strong case that content is set to see a rise in value. He stated more convincingly than I’ve previously heard that the new media giants are set to start paying green money for entertainment content.

Also check out our slide-shows from the sessions and the parties.

And there were some piquant moments:

>> Om Malik asking ex-Yahoo executive Dan Rosensweig straight up if he had accepted a job as Yahoo’s new CEO. (Dan said he hadn’t.)

>> Alexander Ljung of SoundCloud saying that his mother kept his first business venture alive by buying 30 copies of a sociological study on the Internet. Now it’s Ashton Kutcher who is funding him.

>> Will.i.am taking one of my questions and turning it into a beat, live on stage. (It’s in the video we’re posting.)

Tim Westergren talked about how Pandora is merely at the start of its trajectory in changing the way consumers listen to radio.

Will.i.am surprised everyone. As our closing speaker, the musician and producer and self-taught technologist inspired the room talking about his impoverished roots in the projects in Boyle Heights. He said he learned that he was poor only when kids from his school in Brentwood showed up around Thanksgiving to hand out canned goods. His message was that both Hollywood and Silicon Valley need to focus on depicting science as the source of innovation and excitement that it is.

I’m paraphrasing but he said something like: “We celebrate Miles Davis. We also need to celebrate the person who figured out how to make a trumpet.”  He said it a lot better.

He said a lot of amazing things. (The full video is posted here, as it was well worth sharing. We’ll post other video as we get it together.)

And of course I was happy to finally see our PowerGrid make its debut, a ranking system that provides a dynamic measure of who is up and who is down in this business. Done enough to show, but still: coming soon.

Some thoughts emerged: the fate of Hulu, despite its success, is  very much an open question. Several people on stage questioned why the company has not yet sold though it’s been up for sale for a couple of months. More than one suggested that it may not sell at all.

Most of the executives on stage defended Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’ decision to separate out his DVD-postal service, saying it was a necessary business shift. But it’s pretty clear that the UltraViolet initiative – moving consumers back to owning their movies, rather than renting – is intended to rebalance the power equation away from Netflix.

The event was full of informed people getting smarter, and it was exciting to see the conversation from last year expanded at this gathering.

A couple more things. A very mean-spirited blogger wrote some untrue things on her blog on the eve of our conference. I will not stoop to address it specifically except to say this: It’s completely false.

But entirely de rigueur. I have resisted the temptation to let the world in on how Nikki Finke stoops to threats, extortion, lies and insults to prevent our events from taking place. This one is no different. She has wounded some very fine people in the process and insulted prominent industry leaders, starting from our launch event in early 2009, when Universal’s then-chairman Marc Shmuger debated Yahoo’s then content chief Jeff Dossett.

This is beyond spirited competition. It should not be tolerated, and quite frankly I am tired of it.

So all I can say is, expect something nasty on the eve of our Oscar party. But we’ll have a good time anyway.