For all the praise that Y-Combinator and 500 Startups receive for their power to open doors in Silicon Valley, there’s a newcomer in town on a first name basis with both Hollywood and Madison Avenue.
Today marks the culmination of the inaugural class of Turner Media Camp, a media and entertainment focused accelerator initially announced at this year’s SXSW festival. Less focused on its financial return than on strategic value creation, the top brass at Turner have given a group of industry outsider technologists and early stage investors free reign to create the San Francisco-based startup builder.
The initial class consists of just six startups. As small as this group sounds, it could have been five, except for the organizers struggled to cut the group down any smaller. The application targeted pre-venture capital companies at the intersection of media and technology, which have a minimum of two founders, and which are already shipping product.
Program director David Austin, a 17-year Apple veteran and subsequent VC, described it as a “graduate-level accelerator,” and an industry specific one at that. It’s an interesting characterization given that startups joined Media Camp after completing each Y-Combinator and 500 Startups.
Each participating company gets $20,000 by way of convertible note – most accelerators take preferred or common shares – on extremely flexible terms. Media camp typically takes whatever terms seed investors have already negotiated, Austin tells me. Follow-on investment is neither guaranteed nor out of the question. Turner parent Time Warner has a venture arm, but the group typically only makes later-stage (Series B or C) investments in fully-baked companies.
During the 12-week program, each company is paired with an industry mentor, who is typically a C-level executive of a major media company. These companies may fall within the Turner portfolio, but they are equally as likely not to.
Media Camp has taken an extremely open and welcoming attitude toward providing access across the industry. After all, the goal is to learn as much as possible about the technology new media and to support the growth of the participating startups in every way possible. The biggest support it can offer is unfettered access to the otherwise inaccessible decision-makers and check-writers that control old media.
“We’ll walk away from MC with some pretty amazing, new customers that would have taken us far longer to get in front of without their help,” says Chute co-founder Ranvir Gujral.
The original idea for Media Camp came out of the feeling that there remained a substantial disconnect between Valley technology startups and old media companies. The two exist in fundamentally different worlds and historically have had a contentious relationship at the best of times, a non-existent one at the worst of times.
Appropriately, the class began with a “Media 101” session taught by a senior Turner executive and covering how technology can suceed (or fail) in the old media world. According to Austin, it was “eye opening” for the companies and the program leaders who are themselves industry outsiders. From Turner’s perspective, Media Camp is an efficient and innovative way to set the company’s future technology roadmap.
During and after the program, all partnership negotiations between Turner and the Media Camp companies are done at arms-length, with no expectation of preferential treatment in either direction. Not that this has slowed anyone down. Between the six participating companies, partnerships have been signed with CNN, CNN Money, NBCNews.com, HBO, Cinemax, Warner Brothers, and others, many of which will be announced publicly for the first time during today’s demo day. Two of the companies, Chute and Socialize, secured additional financing mid-program as well.
None of this could be described as common, or standard operating procedure in the cutthroat world of old media. The fact that Turner is ripping up the playbook is what makes Media Camp so interesting, and what gives it a fighting chance at succeeding.
“As the 12 weeks went on, I could sense the excitement and awareness about Media Camp within Turner build,” Gujral tells me by email. “Future classes will have an even further advantage because that awareness will already be there.”
Today’s demo day will be attended by a combination of angel investors, VCs, Turner execs, and execs from other major media companies. Companies pitching will have the unenviable task of simultaneously speaking to both Silicon Valley and old media titans.
Austin considers the first iteration of Media Camp a tremendous success, based on the caliber of companies it was able to attract, the traction each was able to create within the world of big media, and the learnings made by Turner. Going forward, the company plans to continue the program with little if any changes expected for round two. Austin went on to tell me that he sees San Francisco as the long-term hub of Media Camp, but hopes to expand to other markets in the future.
Below find a summary of the six inaugural companies:
- Chute – A backend platform that powers the photo and video functionality brand, publisher, and developer apps and websites. The service offers image uploading, processing, moderation, commenting, and sharing. The Y-Combinator company signed partnerships with NBCNews.com (formerly MSNBC), Today.com, Lucky Magazine, House of Blues Entertainment, and LA Live, as well as with CNN for the recent Democratic and Republican national conventions.
- Matcha – A social discovery application helping fans navigate digital video platforms to find movies and follow TV Shows across. The guide aggregates more than 200,000 premium titles and offers a proprietary recommendation engine. The company signed partnerships with both HBO and Cinemax during its Media Camp program.
- Showbucks – Enables live face-to-face interaction within social video and social gaming apps. Showbucks was the one of the earliest stage companies entering Media Camp and has yet to ship its product. The company is said to be negotiating several Turner-related content and brand partnerships which have yet to be announced.
- Socialize – A social platform that empowers app developers to quickly and easily add social tools. Its key differentiating feature is the ability for users to influence one another when they aren’t connected on a social network, enabled through interest graph mapping. The company is working on a prototype integration with CNN Money.
- SocialSamba – A social storytelling platform through which fans can connect and interact with their favorite fictional characters. For media companies, the technology supports maintaining engagement between shows and seasons. The company is currently working with Warner Brothers and will announce a second brand partnership during today’s event.
- Switchcam – A 500 Startups alumni company that offers white labeled tools to create user-directed interactive video experiences. The company combines and syncs fan and professional footage of events taken from multiple vantage points. The company is working with Anheuser Busch and several music industry partners.