DIGITAL MEDIA FROM THE INSIDE OUT: My focus is digital content -- production, distribution, collaboration, innovation, creativity. Some posts have appeared across the web (HuffPo, Tribeca's Future of Film, The Wrap, MIPblog, etc.). To receive these posts regularly via email, sign up for my newsletter here.

Entries in conference (11)


Déjà vu all over again

It was déjà vu all over again, the feeling I had leaving last week’s “Business of Entertainment” panel at CAA headquarters. Welcome to a media business that seems to be looking a lot like the way cable TV emerged in the 80s as our dominant business model. (Video of the session is here.)

Forget all that talk of “disruption” and “revolution” and just take for granted that we’re living in a world where digital natives rule, watching their content as digital files or streams on mobile devices. 

The event, organized by Tribeca Enterprises and Bloomberg, featured four top exex from leading digital video companies – Disney's Kevin Mayer (re: Maker Studios), Machinima CEO Chad Gutstein , Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor, Funny or Die CEO Dick Glover, ably moderated by Bloomberg’s Katherine Oliver

To state the obvious, these folk all assume that the entertainment biz is all about digital video, and that we’re in an era defined by YouTube. Theirs is a vast ocean within which all fish swim. This panel was about the cross-currents in that ocean, e.g., trends such as: 

  • Diversification of syndication networks for talent, built atop of YouTube (MCNs like Maker and Machinima);
  • Standalone content sites with new strategies for their original content (Funny or Die); 
  • Premium VOD services built atop YouTube competitors (Vimeo); 
  • New forms of longform TV distribution that starts as digital (Machinima). 

Today we have a giant video ecosystem with multiple windows: just more of them, and in ever-shifting order, depending upon the type of talent and the property, as well as variables like length, target audience and budget. 

These are simply facts of life as these savvy operators, all of them with career experience at “old media" firms, are placing bets on how this new order will deliver audiences and profits. It’s a world which proclaims that content is king, but truthfully, what I heard was that the container for that content (distribution) is king. Or the business model that enables somebody to make a buck, that always trumps content.

Which is why I was flashbacking, back to the origins of today’s incumbent media empires, namely cable TV, which married a robust distribution system with a new paradigm for content networks, much of it from startup firms (ESPN, MTV, CNN, HBO). Their growth led to acquisitions followed by tremendous investment by “old” media (networks, publishers), and market rationalization that enabled lots of money to be made. 

And so today we see many of these business patterns emerging among and between the start-ups and the incumbents as everyone is sprinting for the prize in a significantly changed world featuring tens of thousands of creators available worldwide to audiences at the press of a button. 

Some tidbits from the panel:

  • “YouTube is about audiences connecting with talent who create & recommend content... but you start with compelling content," said Disney’s Kevin Mayer.
  • If  YouTube is online equivalent of broadcast TV, Vimeo is "the internet manifestation of .... premium cable," said Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor, who is busy poaching YouTube talent for Vimeo’s new VOD service. 
  • “Seven years ago, everyone needed to be on YouTube. Now everyone on YouTube is looking to build businesses off it, " said Glover.
  • "There are tens of millions of people tuning in to watch other people play video games," according to Machinima's Gutstein, calling it the new appointment viewing (a la Twitch). 
  • “Internet is going nuclear with young audiences, but it is not to detriment of television. The best long form ever is being created on TV,” says Glover.
  • "Content is king, whether snack size to Twitch to thirteeen-hour binge," said Mayer.

At Least Five Things I Learned From Story World 2012

I choose to think of the Story World Conference as a bellwether for the health of the transmedia community.

What did #SWC12 tell us? Here are my thoughts a couple of weeks after the conference, held over three days in mid-October in Los Angeles.

  1. Big media brands are aligning themselves with the transmedia community.
  2. The transmedia tribe, still not quite a movement, seems to have subdued its fractious factional spats, even if there remain quite opposite ways of approaching the work.
  3. Independent producers are struggling to find business models, but are succeeding at building networks and new models for collaboration and experimentation.
  4. Non-commercial funders are providing vision, as well as money, to stimulate new work.
  5. The market for multiplatform story management is attracting new tools.

Here Come the Big Boys

When we talk about transmedia, we talk about Star Wars, the most influential model for the building and construction of story worlds. And we talk about Disney, the studio most responsible for building content brands across multiple platforms and venues.

Both were present at Story World, though their pending merger was still secret at the time. Suffice it to say, those who knew weren’t talking. (When I asked Ivan Askwith of LucasFilm to name a trend during the conference’s final panel, he mentioned the company’s venture with Angry Birds creator Rovio, but slyly added that in a few weeks “my answer will be quite different.” Indeed!)

Disney kicked off the whole conference with a talk by Scott Trowbridge, Vice President of Creative/R&D at Walt Disney Imagineering, who shared the group’s testing of a new breed of social media-enabled live action adventures, as well as a new real time “Story Engine” platform that’s in development. (Ball State’s Brad King covers the talk in detail here.) 

Click to read more ...


Accelerators and Incubators and Content: A Deeper Dive

The amazing worldwide upsurge of start-up accelerators and incubators was reflected at last week’s Digital Hollywood conference, which featured three packed sessions exploring the topic.

I moderated a “Think Tank” on incubating digital content that featured Ana Serrano, Founder of ideaBOOST  (which I advise), Richard Wolpert, cofounder of Amplify.LA and Chris Gartin, cofounder of io/LA 

It used to be simple, there were accelerators and there were incubators. (Here's the difference).

But, check out some of the other programs represented at the DH conference and you'll see a wide range of models that are emerging to meet a lot of different needs than the venture backed early stage seed accelerators, as exemplified by Y-Combinator and TechStars. (DH speakers came from Originate, Cross Campus, Tipping Point Partners, Turner's Media Camp, Portland Innovation Experiment (PIE), Mucker Labs, and Idealab New Venture Group.

Along with crowdfunding, the accelerator phenomenon is the most-buzzed-about innovation in the start-up world, inspired by the success of the investor-backed Y-Combinator and TechStars that apply a combination of mentoring, seed investment, and exposure to help launch tech startups.

The contours of this ‘seed capital’ model have been widely analyzedchewed over, contemplated, and copied.

What Accelerators Do Right

If an entrepreneur is willing to give the accelerator equity in their company and devote a few months of intensive work, a host of benefits will come their way, as a recent survey of accelerator graduates suggests. 

Accelerators are good at:

1. Generating and validating an idea and a business model. 

2. Investing and finding more investors. 

3. Providing contacts and opening doors. 

4. Providing mentors, advisors and guidance. 

5. Providing hands-on help or education. 

6. Helping in product development and testing. 

7. Helping with product marketing and user acquisition. 

8. Providing a peer group in a high-pressure environment. 

9. Providing a physical location and support resources. 

10. Negotiating and providing discounts, freebies and perks.

Which Accelerators Will Fail?

The proof, of course, is in the pudding, e.g., whether start-ups are able to attract additional capital, customers, and revenues, and, over time, produce an exit (sale or stock offering) that provides returns to the initial investors. It’s probably too soon to tally the success of most of these young companies, but industry veteran Peter Relan recently predicted in a controversial post that 90% of accelerators will ultimately fail on financial terms, because they will be unable to produce profits equal to investments.

Nonetheless, Relan believes the accelerator model creates genuine value for the industry and the country beyond simple ROI, because they constitute “a new education system, one where relevant real-world experience has begun to trump degrees. The right program can provide the same connections that accompanied acceptance into the right university 15 years ago.”

Beyond VC Expectations

Not all accelerators and incubators are financed by venture investors. There various models – let’s call them start-up factories --- sponsored by cities, universities, economic development authorities, even clusters of angel investors in a region. They often have non-market objectives, for instance, creating jobs in a region or improving the performance of a given industry.

A recent example is the “Made in New York” Media Center, an incubator to be launched soon in Brooklyn by the Independent Feature Project in conjunction with General Assembly and the City of New York. 

Other accelerators are sponsored by a company, for example ad agency Weiden + Kennedy’s sponsorship of the Portland Incubation Experiment (PIE); Turner Broadcasting’s launch of Media Camp); and the Canadian Film Centre’s launch of ideaBOOST – each has its own reason for making the investment.

Turner is looking for tech companies that address business needs within the broadcasting industry, and which can help Turner thrive. Companies incubated within PIE may also have a media focus, but in addition, are intended to support the Portland tech ecosystem. IdeaBOOST seeks to help the Canadian content business, as well as to encourage its practitioners to build sustainable companies using principles derived from the lean start-up movement.

These and other accelerator models will blend program features to meet their own goals beyond the straight-up ROI expectations of venture investors (fast growth, 10-100x return).

VCs Don’t Like Content Companies

The classic seed-accelerator concentrates on technology start-ups, which, if successful, can scale rapidly and deliver a Google-level return on investment. Like a mutual fund, the accelerator spreads investors’ risk across a bundle of investments, and then injects the companies with capital, learning, and networking.

Like certain VCs, there are industry-specific accelerators, for example in health care, biotech, nanotechnology, automotive, and others.

But, until recently, not content. In posts here and here, I suggested that maybe the chasm between content and tech is blurring.

VC’s historically do not much like content companies, as a recent TechCrunch post articulated, despite the fact that people spend a third of their time online consuming content. 

Content companies are tough to “scale” quickly, meaning grow the number of customers, and therefore revenue potential. Certainly not like tech platform superstars like Pinterest, which added 11 million monthly uniques in 9 months.

Furthermore, content companies rarely have huge exits like an acquisition – meaning smaller paydays for investors, and a sale often takes longer than tech businesses.

Finally, the traditional tech investors consider content companies to be lifestyle businesses, and simply are not capable of reaching “$100mm and then $1 billion in revenues – anything less is insufficient.”

Enter IdeaBoost

“I’m reluctant to even use the word ‘accelerator,’” said IdeaBOOST’s Serrano at the Digital Hollywood panel, in part because its model veers from the ‘classic’ accelerator model in several ways: It is financed with funds from the government and two large private companies, not VCs looking for a big payday from participants; IdeaBOOST does not take an equity stake in its companies; and most importantly, its first group of eight companies are all building content.

IdeaBOOST, which official kick-offs its first four-month cohort on November 5th in Toronto, is a hybrid model that borrows from many sources in order to support aspiring content companies.

Kickstarter and IndieGoGo inspired IdeaBOOST to include the public in the development process. But instead of soliciting funds, applicants ask the online public to “boost” their project, and in the process acquire a database of prospective customer email addresses before even being selected. IdeaBOOST applicants drummed up more than 300,000 votes in just a month.

This focus upon audience engagement is a key differentiator for ideaBOOST, borrowed from the lean startup movement’s focus upon customer development. The 8 companies accepted in ideaBOOST will be required to use customer validation processes as they develop their product, business plan, and audience engagement scenarios. Mentors for IdeaBOOST companies include content, business, and tech experts from Canada and the U.S.

Co-working space

Founders of Amplify.LA and io/LA have both tech and entertainment cred, and have recruited talent from across both industries. "Pure" content start-ups are in the minority, says Amplify's Wolpert, but if the company can grow, they consider it. io/LA does feature more involvement by talent, so their hybrid model, just launched this year, will be intriguing to track. 

The two programs have also grafted the seed-accelerator model onto another important trend, the co-working movement. Both groups have facilities which house the companies receiving their investments. In addition, other start-ups and creatives are free to work out of the space, with tiered fees based upon what the companies use. Both have active educational programs featuring thought leaders, experienced entrepreneurs and mentors from their accelerator. Both programs foster synergy between and among the membership, with the result that participants can quickly build teams, stronger companies and better products.

If you’re looking for a great work environment for your start-up in either Santa Monica or Hollywood, check them out. And chances are, there is a similar opportunity in your community. Just check out these examples from around the world.  


Transmedia & Education: Some Thoughts

In an recent interview with Peter Gutierrez (@Peter_Gutierrez) about transmedia and education I suggest: 

 “Long before the terminology was introduced, teachers found that students often responded more deeply to fictional works by means of the film adaptation. Today we can tell stories—albeit differently—in many different media, powering a new form of ‘comparative literature.’”

The quote ran in a post entitled "Every Platform Tells A Story: Transmedia Has the Power to Make Any Topic More Vivid and Personal," which ran in the School Library Journal's blog THE DIGITAL SHIFT

Now Gutierrez has run a longer version of his interview with me called "Talking Transmedia" over on "Connect the Pop," his own blog at SLJ, in time to promote my appearance on Saturday at the WyrdCon convention on transmedia and related storytelling forms. (Thanks Peter!) Even though I'm not on the "transmedia and education" panel, this may be relevant.

I was struck by one of my quotes, which frankly I don't remember uttering: 

We must assure that learning by digital natives doesn’t stop at the door of the school or the library—in a sense, students are immersed in the process of discovery and learning 24/7. How do we harness their innate curiosity and their pervasive technical skills in service to learning? Put another way, how can we leverage young people’s appetite for media consumption in service to fundamental learning objectives (what is a story? what are the building blocks of a story?). So how do modern storytelling models help students learn how to learn?  —that’s a skill that will transcend school and serve them throughout their lives.


Sometimes I just like a good flame war: The Week's Best Posts

Each week I go back over my Twitter and other posts to see what I found interesting. Follow me on Twitter (@nickdemartino) if you want the daily dose. Otherwise, just subscribe here and get the curated version.

Sometimes I just like a good flame war, those online arguments, usually among the tech elite, that carry a certain angry certitude about things that, meh, I can't really imagine getting so wound up about. Last week Robert Scoble launched one of them with his "open web" screed. You can read about the reaction here, and if you scroll down, there's a link to the original post. In addition, Dave Winer, mentioned therein, has his own flame to add: "Me and Facebook Are Over."


ON a completely different topic: I'm moderating a panel at the 2nd Screen Summit on Feb. 22 in Santa Monica called "Curated TV

The Impact of Celebrity, Expert, Influencer, and Ambassador Curation when exploring and consuming content." Please join me and 60 other speakers. 

I've also accepted speaking invitations for Transmedia Hollywood and WyrdCon, and a few others pending. I'll share details when they are firmed up. 

Storytelling and Transmedia

My post about BECKINFIELD, the fictional town in which an online sci-fi mystery series is set went live on my blog earlier this week. The interesting thing about the story-form is that all of the content is told via videos created in character by users who register on the site. Tribeca ran the piece on its Future of Film site, as well.  

I learned a bunch from this post about ebooks, transmedia, textbooks, and learning. bids a "fond farewell" to "This is Not A Game" -- the original mantra of ARG "The Beast," which set many of the templates embraced and revered by the alternative reality game community. I liked the POV and historical info in this post a lot.

Netflix launches "Lilyhammer," the Norwegian TV series starring Steven Van Zandt as a mobster on the run in Scandinavia. It's the first push (in a while) into the content realm for the online movie and TV platform. The Sopranos, it ain't.  

"Hollywood by the Numbers" take a look at the movie industry's business models by analyzing data, including the profitability of genres, the summer blockbuster syndrome, why there are no start ups in Hollywood, and the impact of TV on theatrical release patterns. Fascinating. (Thanks to Rob Tercek: @Superplex).


Verizon and Redbox are joining forces to offer a streaming video service, which of course will compete with Netflix, Apple and the others that are out there.  

Huffington Post's jump into online video continues to get a lot of attention. But, HuffPo isn't the only text-based publisher that's turning to video production and distribution, competing with the incumbent TV networks and cable channels. Everybody's doing it!

Oh, and online video viewing is up 43% in a year. 100 million Americans are watching. So are a LOT of TV execs!

The Tech Biz 

Silicon Valley's Dirty Little Secret is the fact that many, if not most "exits" for startup companies are "talent acquisitions," in which a larger company buys and often kills a company, just to lock down engineers or other talent in a very competitive labor market. 

Meanwhile, crowd-funding site Kickstarter is about to hit a new record, coming close to $1 million for a single project.

Tech superstar Pinterest has hit 10 million US monthly unique visitors in record time

Check out Zeega, a new open-source HTML5 platform for creating Interactive Documentaries.

Innovation Strategy is explored in this useful short post.

(BTW: I posted two book reviews this week: George Pelecanos' THE CUT, and Stephen King's 11/22/63. You can read all of my reviews archived here on