Media Camp, Act 2: Meet the Second Class of Storytelling Startups
When Media Camp opened its doors in downtown San Francisco in 2012, it represented an exotic new species of startup accelerator. Unlike most other accelerators, it was owned and run by a big corporation—Turner Broadcasting. It was focused on a single industry: digital media. It was happy to admit companies that had already gone through other accelerators, such as Y Combinator. And it wasn’t aiming to generate financial returns; instead, it was designed to give a boost to young companies that might eventually supply Turner, or other companies in the Time-Warner empire, with cool technology or content.
Well, the experiment seems to be working. All six of the startups that participated in Media Camp’s first session last summer are alive and growing, according to co-director David Austin. Media Camp itself has spawned a new twin accelerator, located in Burbank, CA, and overseen by its sister company Warner Bros. And now the San Francisco operation is admitting its second group of companies, which offer products ranging from video discovery to digital storytelling (details below).
With the first six companies, “Our goal was to get some type of business traction for them within Turner, and within Time-Warner, as well as with outside companies,” Austin says. “And I think all of them had some level of success.” After a tweak or two to the program, Austin and his staff and mentor network have now dived back in; their 2013 term started Monday and continues through Demo Day on September 12.
The biggest adjustment: being more careful to admit companies that already have functioning businesses. “Our core value is with companies that are not in the middle of iterating their product, but are shipping product and trying to get traction,” Austin says. “Those are the folks we can help the most. One of the six companies we did last year [Showbucks] was really early; we were able to help a little bit but not as much as if they had been further along.”
When it entered Media Camp, Showbucks was working on a video trivia game. It pivoted midway through ther program and came out with a mobile charades game for iPhones and Android phones.
The other five companies in the first class were:
Chute—Software that helps brands gather and republish user-generated photos.
Matcha—A one-stop recommendation engine for premium videos on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and other online video-on-demand sources.
Socialize—Software tools developers can drop into their mobile apps to add social features.
SocialSamba—Software that lets fans interact with TV or movie characters via social media, or build their own fanfic stories.
Switchcam—Web-based software that lets users build their own curated videos from online footage of news, sports, or music events.
Of the six companies, “All of them are in business or have been acquired,” says Austin. Socialize was bought by ShareThis in February, and one other company in the batch has also been acquired, though Austin can’t yet say which one.
As part of its 2012 term, Media Camp organized “brand days” giving the startups a chance to meet representatives of other companies under the Time-Warner umbrella. The representatives from Warner Bros. were so impressed by what they saw that they decided they wanted their own version of Media Camp. That operation opened at Warner Bros.’ studio in Burbank in February, and includes five companies: Cinecore, Dealflicks, Kumbuya, Reelhouse, and Storytime Studios.
“They’re basically replicating the program we do here, but down in LA,” says Austin. The main differences: “They have a theatrical bent, and a little more of a game orientation, and we are a little more broadcast-focused.”
And now the good stuff—a look at the five new companies in Media Camp San Francisco’s second batch.
ChannelMeter: We covered this company last week; it was one of six startups graduating from the Matter public media accelerator. It’s developing an analytics platform that’s designed to serve as a kind of Nielsen rating system for online videos, helping publishers and brands figure out when and where to deploy new videos and advertisements to maximize viewership.
Cinemacraft: This Japanese startup has a software product called Videogram that evaluates motion, color, and other qualities to rate the “interestingness” of each frame in an online video—assembling key moments into a clickable mosaic of thumbnails. It’s a way to help video viewers skip to the best parts of a video and increase engagement. The startup also offers a related product called Qixshr that makes stained-glass-style mosaics out of a collection of still photos.
Meograph: With Meograph’s online tools let users can create narrated multimedia stories combining text, video, audio, maps, links, and timelines. It’s being used by media organizations, schools, and companies as an alternative to more complex editing tools.
Plumzi: Working with data from the big animation studios, Plumzi automatically creates interactive cartoons that can be delivered as tablet apps for kids. The startup has already worked with a couple of major studios and has big partnership agreements to announce soon. “It’s great potential add-on revenue for content that already exists,” says Austin.
Tomorrowish: This startup makes what it calls a “social media DVR.” Its software collects past tweets and other social media posts related to archived TV shows and plays back the most interesting ones in sync with the original episode on Hulu. That way, viewers who missed a show when it was broadcast live can follow the social media conversation as if it were live, without fear of seeing spoilers.
Austin says participants in Media Camp’s second group will benefit from a growing list of mentors and advisors form inside and outside Time Warner, and from the staff’s own growing familiarity with the Time Warner empire. “We were all relatively new to Turner when we started this a year and a half ago, but we understand the business much more than we did then,” Austin says. “Our relationships are just expanding dramatically.”
Another nice feature: Media Camp doesn’t insist on taking a specific percentage of each startup’s equity, the way most other accelerators do. In effect, the $20,000 it puts into each participating company comes in the form of a convertible note.
“If they have an open note, we sign the note; if they have an open round, we sign the round,” Austin says. “We don’t mess up the startups’ cap table in any way. We are not focused on finding financial gain, we are working on the strategic value. So it’s all upside for them.”