The Buttered Popcorn of the Media Industry

Posted by Jack Craven CPA on Fri , Oct 11 , 2019

Buttered popcornIt is hard not to notice when you go to the movie theater that the buttered popcorn is quite expensive. Most movie theaters probably make more profit selling popcorn than movie tickets. Live events and conferences have become the “buttered popcorn” of the new media industry.

The NY Times Article “Media Outlets Embrace Conferences as Profits Rise” Points to the growth of live events.

How does one monetize the internet? For years, I have heard about low CPMs on internet advertising. Next, there is a concern about giving it “away for free.” Why give content away for free when someone has to pay for a printed newspaper. You cannot eat traffic or maybe you can?

The internet along with social media creates a community of like-minded individuals. Unlike newspapers and magazines that may publish a few letters to the editor each issue, the internet allows virtually unlimited communication between users. This creates a community.

Live events are a way to monetize internet traffic and the related community that is built. The New York Times which had one conference in 2011 is now holding over 100 conferences/live events worldwide. Apparently, the New York Times believes that buttered popcorn can be quite profitable. was a forerunner in live events. MediaBistro had classes and other live events for folks in the media industry.

Take our example on (of which I am chairman and my son, John is President and CEO). John had created a great website with a terrific brand name in the beverage industry. We did our first conference in 2008 with about 140 attendees. This year we will hold over 10 live events on both the east coast and west coasts with several thousand attendees. Our live events include BevNet Live, NOSH Live, and BrewBound Live. In addition, we hold a Cannabis Forum conference.

There are both qualitative and economic benefits to live events. 

  1. First, they help to further create and display the brand. 
  2. When the attendees amass at live events, the community demonstrates its power.

Being a CPA and financial executive, I tend to focus on the economics of the business. Here are some of the benefits:

  1. Remember print publications in the “old days” of print media. They had two streams of revenue: circulation and advertising. 
  2. Live events have at least two streams of revenue.
    • First, there is the revenue from attendees. In the case of Bevnet. Live attendees pay over $1,000 to attend. (This is sort of like the old circulation model)
    • Next, there are the sponsors and exhibitors. Sponsors are sort of like the advertisers in the old days. In the case of Bevnet Live, they are the suppliers to the industry.
  3. Creating a website (or a print magazine) can be very capital intensive and it can take years for payback. A live event does not take quite the capital investment. This is because most of the revenue from attendees, sponsors and exhibitors are paid before the event.

For years, many traditional old-line media companies have tried to put a digital version of the print product on the internet. This is almost always a recipe for failure (or at least profitless). My suggestion would be to think about creating a community. Once the community is created, consider monetizing it via live events. And next time you are in a movie theater don’t forget to buy some buttered popcorn.


Topics: Media Industry, Profitability, Cash Flow