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    Searching for the next Nicole, Hugh, Russell or Naomi


    Australia’s presence in Hollywood is world-famous. Now, a window has opened for Aussie tech companies to stage a similar assault on the uS advertising and media industry. But, as Brad Howarth argues, time is of the essence.

    As Australians, we get told that we are behind the leading edge of new technology adoption so often that it becomes easy to believe it unquestioningly. Perhaps this has been true in certain aspects of enterprise computing (or specific areas such as broadband speeds and free WiFi access), but it is by no means a ubiquitous statement.

    In February I attended an Austrade trade mission, organised by the Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA), which took seven digital media companies across to New York. There they presented to and met with senior members of the New York advertising and media industries.

    What really stood out for me, however, was how advanced many of the Australian companies were in comparison to the US organisations they were meeting. While the US is generally regarded as leading in terms of innovative digital marketing, such activity is far from the norm.

    It was a point that wasn’t lost on US attendees, such as Michael Winter, New York-based media director at Agency.com.

    “My overall impression was each of the companies had a very good handle on where the market is heading, if not already there,” Winter says.” I was most impressed by some of the technical acumen and savvy-ness of the ideas.”

    This was especially true in terms of mobile content and services. The somewhat fractured nature of the US mobile telecommunications industry, and the slow rollout of 3G services, has created something of a vacuum in terms of companies developing the services necessary to support the distribution of mobile media content.

    But now, with networks getting better organised and devices such as the iPhone and Blackberry educating consumers about using their mobile as a portable computing device, there is an increased demand for companies that can provide services.

    This is good news for mission attendees such as TigerSpike and m.Net, who have opened / will open (respectively) offices in New York to get closer to media and advertising companies.

    According to the New York-based chief digital officer for one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, Tarik Sedky, mobile represents a great opportunity for Australian companies. “You can use the fact you’ve been doing more for longer in mobile than we have to your advantage,” he says.

    Similarly, as more and more consumer attention is being diverted online, brands need to find new channels for getting in front of consumers. Branded content in web-based video and interactive media is gaining interest, but again many US brands are struggling to find service providers with a track record. This was good news for Melbourne-based Ish Media, whose GirlFriday.tv platform is ideally suited to branded content.

    Indeed, the entire US digital media sector is emerging as a potential boom market for Australian companies. I count at least a dozen that have opened US offices in the past six months, and can find another dozen who will do so before the end of this year. And that is a conservative estimate.

    The numbers are difficult to determine, as no one has really put a good figure on the size of either the US or Australian digital media industries. But as San Francisco-based business development advisor David Cannington points out, there is no way that spending on online advertising and media in the US is going to decrease, and may even accelerate as a result of a US recession, as brands seek greater accountability from their media spending.

    According to Sedky, the message to Australian companies is to hurry up and make the move. “We haven’t begun to figure all this out, and a great idea, well-presented, is just one meeting away from a business underway in the States,” he says.

    So just as we’ve colonised Hollywood with our acting and directing talent, so too might we colonise the US medSia industry with our technology and innovation.

    Brad Howarth is a journalist and author of ‘Innovation and the Emerging Markets: Where the Next Bulls Will Run’, a study on the challenges facing small Australian technology companies. You can read his blog at lagrangepoint.typepad.com