As Turner Suspends Media Camp, Its Founder Yearns To Duplicate It
For a consumer or a reporter, the International Consumer Electronics Show would be an exhilarating tour of the latest gadgets and tools, as well as a preview of marvelous technologies of the future.
For established companies, the annual CES event might be a sobering catalog of technological changes they must either master or allow to sweep them off the stage. For example, television watching is migrating away from traditional living room screens and fixed network schedules to on-demand videos streamed to tablets, laptops and smartphones, according to a study released Thursday by the Consumer Electronics Association and NATPE||Content First.
But this doesn’t have to be bad news for traditional media companies that welcome partnerships with innovative startups, according to entrepreneur Balaji Gopinath (pictured above.)
Gopinath is one of the crowd cruising the CES spectacle this week, as he taps into the network he helped build as the founder in 2012 of Turner Media Camp—arguably the first corporate-sponsored accelerator for media startups.
Gopinath is still fiercely devoted to the mission of the Camp, but he suddenly finds himself free to start all over.
TV network giant Turner Broadcasting, after supporting a total of 16 young companies through three annual summer sessions of its in-house accelerator program, has placed the San Francisco-based camp on hold. Gopinath and another member of the team that ran the program, Amalia Miller, announced in late December they had left the company.
Gopinath, Media Camp’s former managing director, says he’d gone through a series of talks with Turner that failed to yield an agreement over the accelerator’s future. The Media Camp team had urged Turner to scale up the program, opening it to more applicants and supplying more seed money to each startup, Gopinath says.
“We thought there was a lot more to do,” Gopinath says. “We were in a kind of ‘go big or go home’ moment.” Turner had been supplying $20,000 in seed money to the startups in return for an equity stake of 5 to 6 percent.
The idea behind Media Camp was to benefit not only young companies, but also Turner itself, by giving the massive entertainment company a window into the kind of disruptive technologies that are changing the industry, Gopinath says. The startups would gain access to potential deals with established media companies, and Turner, a division of media conglomerate Time Warner, could evaluate some ways to re-make itself for a new century. After a year in operation, Media Camp staffers helped another Time Warner unit, Warner Bros., start its own accelerator program in Burbank, CA.
Turner hasn’t detailed its reasons for suspending San Francisco’s Media Camp, and hasn’t said for certain whether it will be revived. In response to Xconomy’s inquiry, senior vice president of communications Jeff Matteson sent a brief statement by e-mail.
“Turner is pausing its involvement with new Mediacamp classes, but continues to support program alumni,” Matteson wrote. “Turner’s sister company Warner Bros. is hosting a class in 2015.”
Meanwhile, Gopinath says he’s taking the time to figure out his next move. One possibility is a new accelerator that could either stand alone or be part of another entity nurturing media startups. “Everything is on the table,” he says.
Gopinath and Miller say they’re proud of what Media Camp accomplished, and they’re maintaining contact with the network of 27 companies that completed either the Turner or the Warner Bros. program. Two Bay Area companies that graduated from Media Camp’s first class in 2012 were acquired: Apple bought Matcha, which made a system to generate recommendations for video content on the Web; and Share This bought Socialize, which allowed mobile apps to annex social features such as sharing and comments. Other Media Camp alumni scored deals with the NBA and Turner units CNN and truTV, says Miller, Media Camp’s former program manager and head of marketing.
“We were able to elevate our companies in the eyes of big corporations, which is really tough,” says Miller, who just joined San Francisco-based Chute as its communications director. Chute was a participant in Media Camp’s first session in 2012. Like Matcha and Socialize, Chute uses technology to extend the social reach of media companies or their content. Chute helps them tap into their fan base, including individuals who produce their own photos or videos that can enhance the media company’s content and brand.
Gopinath says he tried to persuade Turner to let him take over Media Camp as a spinoff. “We did try to buy the name, buy the portfolio, and continue the program independently, but Turner was not open to those options.”
Media startups already have some new opportunities for seed funding and mentorship. Other recently formed media accelerators may have been inspired by Media Camp, Miller says. She points to the public media accelerator Matter and the Disney Accelerator, a Los Angeles-based program formed in collaboration with Techstars.
As Gopinath touched base with supporters at CES, Turner became part of the early news emerging from the conference. Dish Network announced the launch of a video subscription service called Sling TV, designed as an alternative to cable TV, that costs as little as $20 a month. Among the prominent offerings on the new TV distribution service are Turner channels including TNT, TBS, and the Cartoon Network.
The Dish-Turner collaboration on Sling TV is part of a truce between the two companies after a dispute last year that led Turner to temporarily shut off service to Dish. In a statement, Turner said it was allowing its networks to be part of Sling TV “during their beta launch, giving consumers another potential platform to access our popular content and brands.” The eventual plan for Sling TV is to deliver programming to mobile devices and Web-connected TVs, as well as through other means such as Roku players and the Xbox One from Microsoft.
New distribution channels for conventional television programming and movies are just one part of the transformation of entertainment media, Gopinath says.
“Our definition of content is changing,” Gopinath says. “Six seconds of video on Twitter’s Vine is content.” Consumers are creating their own kind of programming alongside network “talent,” for everything from 10-foot video monitors to 5-inch mobile device screens, he says.
“Companies have to evolve, and models have to evolve,” Gopinath says. “You have to go where the audience is.”
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