With Media Camp, Turner Broadcasting Hedges Against a Digital Future

Every recent tome on corporate innovation preaches the same basic truth: big companies need to keep taking risks on new products and business models, or they’ll eventually lose market share to nimbler upstarts. It turns out that this is easier said than done—and big media companies like newspaper chains and record labels have been among the slowest to adapt to the digital age. But there’s one media Goliath that hopes to befriend a few of today’s Davids, and maybe even teach them a thing or two about where to aim. It’s Atlanta, GA-based Turner Broadcasting, which is setting up an accelerator for media entrepreneurs in the heart of San Francisco startup territory.

The new accelerator is called Media Camp, and it’s co-directed by David Austin, an Apple veteran who helped to develop Keynote and iWork and also took a spin in the venture world. Austin and four colleagues from Turner have spent the last three months vetting applicants for the new program, and they say they expect to reveal the names of the six startups admitted to the inaugural class by early next week.

David Austin, a former senior director at Apple, is co-director of Turner Broadcasting's new Media Camp initiative.

Austin withheld details about the companies in a conversation yesterday, except to say that all six “have a little hint of social to them, which is not too surprising given what is going on in media.” Although Turner conducted a national search, all six of the companies happen to be based in the Bay Area. We’ll bring you the details about the companies when the news breaks.

Turner Broadcasting, which is itself a unit of media behemoth Time Warner, is the parent of famous television brands such as CNN, TNT, TBS, the Cartoon Network, Turner Classic Movies, Turner Sports, Adult Swim, the reality TV network TruTV, and HLN (formerly known as CNN Headline News). Under founder Ted Turner, the company cut its own disruptive swath through the television industry in the 1970s and 1980s, most notably by establishing a 24-hour cable news operation that stole millions of viewers away from the traditional network news shows.

But today, says Austin, Turner Broadcasting is a bit “old school”—though he hastens to add that he means this “in the nicest possible way. It’s a classic large enterprise, just because it has been around for a long time.”

One of the two guiding ideas behind Media Camp, Austin says, is that technology entrepreneurs who want to make it big in the media business need to understand how established media companies like Turner actually work. “The economics, the value system, why analytics and content rights are important, how our relationships with cable vendors work”—all of these subjects will be part of the Media Camp curriculum, Austin says. “It’s a very complex business where VCs don’t invest very much, because in the past they’ve had difficulties. Helping our companies understand all that is really key.”

The other guiding idea is that Turner doesn’t have all the answers about the future of media, and that there’s a lot for executives in Atlanta to learn about trends bubbling up from Silicon Valley. “There is openmindedness enough to admit that there is stuff happening in the world that isn’t completely controlled by Turner,” Austin says. “Understanding that and being part of it is much better than just digging in your heels. That didn’t work very well for the music industry.”

Austin was recruited to lead Media Camp by Balaji Gopinath, the vice president of emerging technology in Turner’s Audience & Multiplatform Technologies group. An angel investor and MIT grad who splits his time between San Francisco and Atlanta, Gopinath joined Turner “with the goal of understanding how disruptions occur and do it to ourselves before it’s done to us,” says Austin. He hired a handful of former entrepreneurs and technologists, including Austin, to act as Turner’s eyes and ears in Silicon Valley, and dreamed up Media Camp as a way to guarantee more direct interaction with the startup community. The company announced the accelerator program and began soliciting applications right before the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in March.

As an incubator for media startups, Media Camp may be the first of its kind. But the idea itself isn’t a radical one, given the recent profusion of accelerators grooming companies to enter specific industries. In fact, in one five-block-square area of downtown San Francisco there are now three “vertical” accelerators: Rock Health in the healthcare industry (on Grant Street), Greenstart in the cleantech industry (on Battery Street, appropriately), and Media Camp (on Sansome Street).

The first generation of startup accelerators, such as Y Combinator and TechStars, focused on consumer Web services, where the barriers to entry are low and getting lower. The rise of the new specialized accelerators, however, is in part an acknowledgement that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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One response to “With Media Camp, Turner Broadcasting Hedges Against a Digital Future”

  1. Ticket says:

    I would like to start a new tv station. I am located in Atlanta and would like to meet somebody from Turner Broadcast. Please email me at [email protected] THANKS