TC50 v DEMO: The startups are the losers

As DEMOFall08 comes to a close today and TechCrunch 50 drags on for another day (it’s a 3 day event), over 100 startups will have appeared on stage in front of audiences in San Francisco and San Diego, hopefully opening new doors and delivering much needed exposure.

With the two events running side by side, you’d think the volume would generate more buzz and a ton of coverage. And yet, the opposite has occurred. For TechCrunch50 in particular, the startup coverage is way down on last year, to the point that not even Gabe Rivera can manually correct Techmeme to compensate for it. Where at various points during last years event nearly every story on Techmeme was TechCrunch50 related, the conference has struggled to even get a top headline, being relegated instead down the page most of the time, and with a lot less mentions.

DEMO hasn’t fared well either, at least on Techmeme (which is really no surprise), but the coverage across tech blogs is more thorough, and more leading sites would appear to be covering DEMO companies than TechCrunch50 sites. Of course there is another reason for that: the media partners for DEMO include the cream of the Web 2.0 blogs minus TechCrunch, so you’d expect that level of coverage. Couple that to pre-conference briefings, that allowed people like me to cover the event from Australia even when the presentations were in the middle of my night. I’ve received exactly one email from a startup at TC50, and that was after the presentation.

So what happened? Why didn’t both conferences get more coverage, giving more airtime to the hard working startups at both events?

The basics: intentionally running TechCrunch50 at the same time of DEMO caused people to pick sides, and as a consequence some of the bigger sites covering TechCrunch50 last year are not doing so this year (although there is some cross over). TechCrunch50 as a stand alone event not up against DEMO was THE only game in town last year when it ran, and as a consequence it was THE news for two days. In trying to kill the competition, Arrington and Calacanis have actually damaged their own event by dividing attention.

The marketing BS didn’t help. As I’ve said previously, and as I’m hearing from people on the ground this week, TechCrunch50 is a great event, well organized (aside from WiFi), and has a great mix of people. Last year it had goodwill because although the DEMO must die meme was mentioned, it wasn’t the main focus, and people felt comfortable supporting both events. This year, a lot of the goodwill was lost due to a vitriolic, often hate filled marketing pitch. It’s hard to say you’re all about putting startups first when you’re trying to kill the other conference they can present at, and are bad mouthing Chris Shipley, someone I’ve never met, but who I’ve always heard positive things about, and is generally well liked in the space.

And then there was karma, delivered in a bucket load by Steve Jobs. Throw in a Zune or two for good measure as well. It has to be poetic justice that in going after DEMO on the same days, TechCrunch50 then had to deal with a Steve Jobs iPod launch in the middle of the event. Startups presenting at TechCrunch50? really? because the only news story in town today is the iPods, and NBC coming back to iTunes.

If TechCrunch50 hadn’t been about killing DEMO, and was held later in September like it was last year, does anyone seriously think that the level of coverage would be as low as it is now?

TechCrunch50 will still make a lot of money for Arrington and Calacanis, and will undoubtedly be called a success. But there are losers. The startups are the losers. Instead of being given the best opportunity to gain widespread coverage, and maybe even a chunk of new users, startups at both events have had to compete in a sea of noise and although some may have received some good coverage, most may have only received a passing link and a standardized paragraph on what they do. Many will return home, count their costs, and realize that although it might have been cool to present after Ashton Kutcher, or before god himself (Walt Mossberg), the benefits were low to non-existent.

Hopefully next year some of the smart people around Arrington, such as Heather Harde, and even Scoble, will convince him that being a community player first is the right direction to head in, and that the ultra-competitiveness damages Arrington himself, TechCrunch50 and the TechCrunch brand. Being a community player helps startups, and wasn’t the the original point of creating TechCrunch50 in the first place?

(original image source: Loic LeMeur)

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