Here come the mediata startups

By Rafat Ali , written on December 4, 2013

From The News Desk

(This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Influencers. Follow Rafat Ali.)

In the history of the Internet and online media, Politicalbase will remain an obscure footnote, remembered by only five people, three of which were likely the creators of it. It was launched in 2008 by Shelby Bonnie's post-CNET company and was dead soon after.

But the site, launched as media-meets-data site to connect general public to their political leaders and where they stood on issues, has influenced my thinking in profound ways on building the next generation of business information companies. For me, it was one of the first online consumer-facing sites that showed the potential of seamless flow from media to data and back to media, all without making explicit the separation between the two seemingly different forms of presentation.

Historically, in the world of business information and B2B media, the media and data companies have been started separately and put together down the line by roll-up shops backed by private equity, or by larger trade media conglomerates. Even then, when they have been under the same umbrella, they have existed as separate units at best, and separate fiefdoms at worst.

But what would a startup built from the ground up to take advantage the organic fusion of media and data look like? What if media and data weren't separate, and weren't even built as separate entities? If software is eating the world, and the world is driven by APIs, what does media look like? If every information morsel flows in a stream -- as increasingly every media form is -- does it matter what format it is in? If the newsfeed + follow model enabled the Facebookification of media on the open web, what does it do to data services in similar environments? If all updates are pushed in a newsfeed, could data updates be pushed in it too?

What if data *is* media, especially if the goal is to create meaningful experiences out of it? What kind of user experiences can you build out of this hybrid reality?

What would it mean to scaling of media startups, a group historically seen by the investor class as a low-margin, human-heavy, and purely ad-supported businesses not meant to scale beyond a certain point?

We call these new generation of companies as “Mediata Companies.” Chalk us up as one of them, as we attempt to answer some of these questions above in building out Skift. Other startups like Mattermark, Pricenomics, SuperData Research, and even Nate Silver's 538 are trying subtle variations of the mediata theme, some more scalable than the others.

All of us are focused on competitive intelligence, one way or the other. All of us look back to the original media-meets-data inspiration, Bloomberg, built on proprietary closed systems for a very targeted set.

But the new generation of mediata companies are looking beyond the traditional business media companies in their set, and instead looking at the best of consumer web and mobile product-driven companies, creating mashups in the best sense of that phrase: hybrid, curated, lean, API-hungry, open and multi-faceted, built at the intersection of design and user-experience.

From a revenue perspective, the debate then shifts from the either/or of paid vs. free, and focuses on the "and," building revenue streams that are a blend of what media and data have to offer. Mediata offers an opportunity for brands to break free from purely ad-driven revenue.

The unique content proposition it enables multiple tiers of subscription revenue -- daily, monthly, custom -- as well as a product with deep user interaction that advertisers need to engage. It is an antidote to the tyranny of the pageview. The userbase arguably cuts a wider swath than people just interested in data products within large companies, and has a wider cross-functional appeal.

From a scaling perspective, mediata companies have an arguably faster ramp on revenues than pure media startups, and potentially a similar growth curve to pure data/product startups.

From a distribution perspective, the mix of using media and the distribution scaling that it offers (owned platform, syndication, etc.) helps serve as a marketing funnel to build out the revenues for the data services that sit parallel and intertwined with it.

These companies are also riding a few other intersecting megatrends enabled by digital:

  • The blurring of personal and professional lives of users, because of ever-accessible digital devices, pervasive connectivity, and always-on social media mean users want more and more information, when they want it, and in more atomized ways than their predecessors.
  • Millennials raised on intuitive, open-web services -- media among them -- demand more from the business information companies they rely on for their professional lives. If everyone's coming in as an informed user driven by web-research, how should mediata companies service this generation of users?
  • The rise of the prosumer, or to use a more lay term, the rise of fanboy. If everyone's an expert, what does it do the the potential userbase these companies can build? Mediata companies are rethinking the traditional userbase and casting a wider net, and going beyond industry-defined silos, to build a larger brand.
  • The traditional silos in almost all industries are collapsing because of digital --media, tech and finance are best examples of it -- and that creates opportunities for new ways to look at industries, and build new digital-native information brands.
  • The ubiquity of embed code -- YouTube’s under-appreciated contribution in making it mainstream -- and widgets as a precursor to it means any kind of media, including data and its visualization finally gets unlocked from its proprietary containers, and can freely flow in any kind of environment.
It is in this new mongrel multimedia/multiformat world that mediata companies are creating their own whitespace, and filling it with a hybrid that is built to capitalize on this new blended reality.

P.S.: This is meant as a conversation starter, by no means all I wanted to say about mediata and how this changes the game for media startups. Chime in below, if you will.