Today on the podcast we are speaking with Paddy Cosgrave, founder and CEO of Web Summit. Why?
Well, Collision, one of Web Summit’s portfolio of tech conferences, takes place next week, expecting to bring 40,000 people from around the world to Toronto and generate $77 million in economic impact. It’s a pretty big deal.
“Unfortunately, there’s a long history over the last decade that I tend to lean into controversies around any event that we’re holding anywhere in the world, especially four weeks out, because the volume of tickets that are booked locally is highest in the final weeks.”
– Paddy Cosgrave
Collision also announced this week that it’s coming back to Toronto next year and that is also a pretty big deal. BetaKit was first to report the likelihood in May, as part of a broader piece noting how the departure of our mayor had put renewal plans in question—plans that at one time been focused on a three-year deal, valued at over $40 million in financial and in-kind support from all three levels of government.
That story kicked off so many conversations across Canada: about the economic value of global tech events and the role of government in attracting them, whether supporting international events undermines homegrown alternatives, and whether another Canadian city could swoop in and score Collision while Toronto is without a mayor or a functional budget. It’s such an interesting conversation that we recorded a whole separate podcast for it.
But that podcast didn’t have Paddy and his take, or frankly, an opportunity for us to ask him why he had disparaged BetaKit’s reporting on the record before doing an about-face and publicly inviting us to speak on stage at Collision. It doesn’t seem likely that any conversation on stage at Collision is going to happen, but we do have this conversation.
Unfortunately, there were a lot of conversation topics we were interested that Paddy… wasn’t.
He wasn’t too interested in speaking to the value proposition of an event like Collision, or the likelihood of Collision returning to Toronto past 2024, or why some people across Canada might have soured on the conference in the last few months.
What was he interested in talking about? He was keen to note the other Canadian cities either rumoured or confirmed to be pitching for Collision after next year, along with a reenergized courtship from the US. And he very much wanted to talk about his support of journalism—serious investigative journalism—and how he felt BetaKit’s reporting had fallen short.
This was intriguing given the following: while Paddy wasn’t that interested in hearing about the documents BetaKit had to back up our reporting that Destination Toronto was in fact exploring a $42.6 million deal for another three-year term, he was still adamant that no one at Web Summit had ever seen them or known of their existence.
In case you miss it on the podcast, the details of that $42.6 million proposal, from documents obtained by BetaKit, are as follows: a $14.2 million annual investment, with $6.2 million to come from the City of Toronto (through Destination Toronto), $4 million to come from the Government of Ontario, and another $4 million from the Government of Canada. For a fulsome history of Toronto’s Collision bids, read this story.
Paddy also took the opportunity to resurface and extend some… criticisms of fellow Canadian publication The Logic and its founder David Skok over a spat regarding Collision media accreditation, press freedom, and event competition. So much so that we felt an obligation to allow David an opportunity to respond. His full statement is included below:
“The Logic has a proud tradition of journalistic independence. Our guidelines are posted publicly on our website for anyone to read.
“I remain grateful to the news organizations and businesses that stood alongside us as we sought accreditation to cover Collision. We look forward to reporting on the event, and we’ll continue to convene our subscribers—as we’ve always done.”
It’s all very dramatic. But does any of it matter?
As Paddy says on the podcast, many of the controversies he’s leaned into, the disparaging statements he’s made, the cordial invitations to speak on his stage, maybe even this podcast, have all been connected to a tendency to drive interest and ticket sales for Collision in the weeks leading up to the event.
After our recording, Paddy referred to himself as ‘bould’ (he also tweeted it), which in Ireland means “a uniquely Irish way of misbehaving.” If there’s one thing you learn from this podcast it might be that.
One final programming note: this conversation was an hour and twenty minutes long, and we cut it down in the interest of time and removing what we thought our audience might not be interested in: Bono and U2 talk, Collision programming stuff, an ongoing spat with Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister (which Paddy references on the podcast but had discussed in more detail).
Now, Paddy might once again raise the flag of serious journalism and come at us aggrieved. But Paddy, you said it yourself on the podcast: this is all just “a bit of fun,” right?
Let’s dig in.
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