Fabulous 15: The Top Digital Media Influencers

Article ImageThe digital media industry continues to evolve, in part because of the people who have devoted their time and expertise to advancing the technology and the content that it powers. When we asked industry experts who they felt were the 15 most influential people in digital media, we expected to receive a range of responses. And that's what we got.

These influencers have created opportunity for themselves and others within the digital media industry. Barry Graubart, author of the Content Matters blog, says that when he made his nominations, he "tried to identify people who are influencing behavior and changing the roles of digital media companies."

The top 15 digital media influencers we feature here represent all aspects of the space, from the technology that enables the media to the content providers who use the technology as a platform. We also recognize the educators, the researchers, and the innovators who continue to advance digital media through their knowledge and know-how.

Steve Jobs, Co-Founder and CEO, Apple

Society's use of digital content was undoubtedly boosted by the invention of devices such as the iPhone and the iPad, both of which enable users to access content wherever and whenever they need it. While Jobs died in 2011, his impact on the digital media space will have long-lasting effects. When people think of digital content, especially mobile digital content, they likely think of Jobs. "The iPhone remains the seminal product that defined how we view mobile content today," says John Blossom, president and senior analyst at Shore Communications, Inc. "Jobs made premium content attractive to consumers in the digital world on a widespread basis when others were still in the planning stages for better premium offerings. Media models may move on from online storefronts eventually, but for now Jobs' vision has enabled digital media to thrive in ways unimaginable a few years ago."


Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO, Amazon

Ebooks have been a part of the digital media space for years. But it took a long time for them to truly become part of the cultural landscape. Blossom credits Bezos and the Kindle for making ebooks part of mainstream media and advancing digital media to previously unknown levels. 

"Ebooks were nothing new when the Amazon Kindle digital reader came along, but with more than a decade of online marketing genius already in place behind its selling of print books and other digital media, Bezos laid the cornerstone of the online digital revolution for book publishers," says Blossom. "The Kindle made it easy to discover, evaluate and purchase ebooks from a wide variety of publishers, including self-publishing authors who could upload their own content into Amazon's online storefront."

Blossom credits Bezos with increasing sales of ebooks to Kindle. The Kindle quickly evolved into more than a simple ebook reader. The Kindle Fire, which launched in late 2011, was immediately identified as a competitor to Apple's iPad. "Bezos' innovative approaches have enabled Amazon to keep its digital muscle and to have leverage over print publishers as no other online outlet can command," says Blossom. Amazon has become a multimedia content distributor, using its Kindle devices to stream content from major network and cable television companies.


Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

Zuckerberg needs no introduction. In a short period of time, Facebook has helped shape what digital and social media are today. "With $1 billion in net income, a million comments posted every two minutes, and more than 3 billion photos uploaded per month, it's safe to say that Facebook has changed the internet," says Graubart.

"He's a prodigy and a visionary in the social media space, and he literally built the mold for social media communities as we know them today," says Lynn Russo Whylly, an editorial consultant who has reported on the digital media industry for 20 years.

Facebook is used as a communication tool for both business and pleasure. Graubart sees the social media platform as a strong channel for publishers in the future. "With the Open Graph and the promise of paying with Facebook credits, publishers will soon see Facebook as a critical platform for their content," says Graubart.

Blossom notes how Zuckerberg "fashioned the world's largest social media empire out of content that no media company cared about-and then managed to figure out how to monetize it effectively before anyone else did. Facebook grew one tweak at a time, learning by listening as it went along-and managing to keep its social signals to itself in the process. Where AOL failed, Facebook succeeded in creating a walled garden for everyday people on the Web."

Larry Page, Co-Founder and CEO, Google

Page can be credited with helping to make digital content more organized and easier to find. "The PageRank algorithms named after [Page] point to his seminal role in transforming the World Wide Web from a loose hodge-podge of digital content sources into an integrated information resource that billions of people reference every day for answers to their problems and for entertainment and personal communications," says Blossom. "PageRank was the first online content organization tool which recognized that hyperlinks in web content pointing to other information resources were also a map of how the web was relevant to the people publishing on it."

Blossom notes how Page is now leading Google's social media endeavor, Google+. "Be it via the web or via its Android or Chrome OS mobile computing platforms and Google's autonomous vehicle experiments, Page is setting the pace for a wider and more pervasive presence of the web in our lives," adds Blossom.

Andy Carvin, Senior Strategist, Social Media Desk, NPR

Graubart views Carvin as a digital media influencer for his innovative use of Twitter. Carvin is in charge of NPR's social media initiatives, using both Twitter and Facebook to communicate on the news organization's behalf.

"Andy Carvin's @acarvin twitter stream was probably the information service more journalists and media professionals relied upon for information about the Arab Spring than any other," says Graubart. "He leveraged Twitter in new ways, retweeting local Egyptian and Tunisian sources, helping make the world aware of these events."

John Paton, CEO, Digital First Media

Paton has accomplished a lot to ensure that newspapers-traditional media-can thrive in an increasingly digitally based world, implementing a "digital first" mantra toward newspaper publishing. Digital content is a top priority before words ever appear in print.

Digital First Media consists of Digital First Ventures, MediaNews Group and Journal Register Company. In all, the companies have more than 800 digital and online offerings. "While newspapers continue to search for a model that can work, Paton's Digital First approach, focusing on the web and mobile while using inexpensive, off-the-shelf publishing tools, has returned the Journal Register to profitability," says Graubart. Paton talks about the connection between newspapers and digital media in his blog, Digital First.

Tim O'Reilly, Founder and CEO, O'Reilly Media, Inc.

O'Reilly's company has changed with the times and has become a solid online publisher. O'Reilly helped guide the company from its beginnings as a technology book publisher into a multimedia publishing channel. "O'Reilly has experimented and succeeded with pre-release content access, cross-platform content accessibility, subscription book access and by-the-chapter content purchases," says Blossom. "He saw book publishing as a process, not an end product, and learned how to engage audiences as an active component in the creation of high-quality online media. His ability to attract the digital media industry's leading and emerging thinkers to his many events ensures that O'Reilly is always on the cutting edge of the next great thing that will drive content forward."

"Tim [O'Reilly] has been an early adopter and a vocal advocate for constant innovation in the book publishing space," adds Graubart. "Most importantly, O'Reilly Media has always eaten its own dog food, embracing openness and innovation."

Rupert Murdoch, Founder, Chairman and CEO, News Corp.

News Corp. is a strong media property with assets in television, film, and publishing. Among those properties are Fox News Channel, Fox Television Studios, Dow Jones & Co., and The Wall Street Journal. Murdoch has led the company's evolution as a multimedia digital content provider.

"Love him or hate him, Murdoch has been a relentless seeker of ways to make digital media work for news organizations in ways that preserve some of the best ideas of print media," says Blossom, noting the success of The Daily app on iPads and iPhones. "His takeover of Dow Jones has challenged that organization to develop more innovative approaches to business news media, whilst maintaining a freemium approach to building web traffic that was pioneering in its own time and still proving valuable today," adds Blossom.

Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, VivaKi

VivaKi, which is part of Publicis Groupe, comprises digital specialist agencies Digitas and Razorfish, as well as media communications companies Starcom Mediavest Group and ZenithOptimedia. Tobaccowala helps his clients become successful in their endeavors in the digital media space. "Rishad was an early leader in figuring out digital media and helping clients and conference attendees understand how to use it and measure it," says Russo Whylly.

Joseph Jaffe, founder and partner of Evol8tion, LLC, classifies Tobaccowala as a "disruptor, visionary, provocateur" with a "corporate platform and podium, on a global level."

Jeff Jarvis, Author, Blogger and Educator

Jarvis is the author of Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live and What Would Google Do? He is also a media blogger at BuzzMachine. Jarvis serves the academic world as an associate professor and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. He also does consulting work for a variety of media companies. Through all of these endeavors, Jarvis helps provide education and insight into the digital media world. Jaffe refers to Jarvis as "a media scholar and bridge between the old mainstream/established publisher incumbency and the new world of journalism, content creation, and influence."

David Weinberger, Author

Weinberger has helped educate the business world on the value of digital media through a series of books: The Cluetrain Manifesto, Everything Is Miscellaneous, and Too Big to Know. Weinberger spent 20 years as a marketing consultant, and he currently writes Joho the Blog. "As one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Weinberger helped to coin many of the fundamental concepts of what makes digital media and ecommerce work on the web," says Blossom. In Everything Is Miscellaneous, Weinberger addresses digital search as an effective way in which to organize content, adds Blossom, noting that Too Big to Know "helps us to understand the value of learning how to have assurance in an era in which an abundance of conflicting sources of information challenge us to understand what the truth is in a multi-dimensional world of digital media."

Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-In-Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, AOL, Inc.

Before joining forces with AOL, Huffington made her name in digital media as the founder of The Huffington Post, a news and blog website. AOL acquired The Huffington Post in early 2011. "A year after its acquisition by AOL, The Huffington Post has more than 36 million unique monthly visitors, and receives more than 6 million comments each month. HuffPost has completely revolutionized the content aggregation model," says Graubart. Site visitors are drawn to HuffPost by a variety of content topics authored by a range of subject matter experts. It is an aggregation model that is followed and emulated by many, providing a one-stop shop for content that most online users demand today.

Om Malik, Founder and Senior Writer, GigaOM

Malik is a veteran writer covering technology, with bylines at Forbes.com, Red Herring, and Business 2.0. In February 2012, GigaOM extended its reach with the acquisition of paidContent, which covers the digital media space. The deal gave GigaOM ownership of ContentNext Media, Inc., thus broadening the scope of GigaOM's content.

"One of the early digital media bloggers and among the few remaining independent, GigaOM has remained relevant, and now is poised to become an even bigger player, acquiring paidContent," says Graubart.

Geoff Ramsey, CEO and Co-Founder, eMarketer, Inc.

Ramsey, along with Terry Chabrowe and Sam Alfstad, founded eMarketer, which has evolved into an organization that tracks trends in the digital marketing space. eMarketer's guidance helps companies be more successful with their digital marketing initiatives. "Geoff, along with his two co-founders, created order out of the chaos that was digital media research with the launch of eMarketer," says Russo Whylly. "By pulling all industry results together at a time when the top researchers disagreed on everything from definitions to predictions, eMarketer built its brand first by noting the variances and explaining them, then by giving its own estimates, thereby competing with its research partners."


Rob DeMillo, CTO of Revision3

DeMillo deserves the honor as a top digital media influencer, according to Jan Ozer, editor of Streaming Learning Center and a streaming consultant. Revision3, an internet television network, launched the first video-oriented website to operate on an HTML5 platform, transitioning from Flash. The company also offers a video app that operates on Android phones and tablets, as well as GoogleTV. In an article for Streaming Media magazine, Ozer notes how Revision3 has been able to connect with users across a range of channels, "not only on their PCs but on mobiles, in in-flight entertainment systems, and on TVs via devices like Roku, Xbox 360, and Sony PS3."

There's no question that these influencers, and countless others, have transformed the digital media industry into what it is today. Industry watchers and digital media users alike will await their next innovations and contributions to the field as they shape the future of digital media.