Media entrepreneurship is hot right now.
For starters, look no further than popular culture for signs that media entrepreneurship is in vogue. The new HBO comedy, “Silicon Valley” centers on an up-and-coming music website startup (with a killer compression code) called Pied Piper. The show is similar in subject matter to an Amazon original show, “Betas,” a comedy that focused on a group of entrepreneurs in an incubator creating a new social networking dating app.
The two comedies spoof the Bay Area tech culture with companies and characters similar to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, Twitter and Google among others. Lest you think these shows have everything to do with entrepreneurship and innovation and little to nothing to do with MEDIA entrepreneurship, I would point you to Cindy Royal’s recent Nieman Lab post proclaiming, “media is tech.” (The Texas State University journalism professor has a unique perspective having just completed a year-long fellowship at Stanford University).
Need further proof of the popularity of media entrepreneurship? Look at ABC’s hit television show, “Shark Tank,” where investors pitch their products and ideas before a panel of “shark” investors. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who made a fortune selling broadcast.com to Yahoo! in the late 90s, is the resident “media shark.” But other sharks have also funded media and tech companies; while the show features entrepreneurs from all walks of life, media companies appear rather frequently. Just this season, a couple sold Cuban on a children’s book recommendation website, for instance.
While not every entrepreneur is as fortunate to hook a big fish investor, many other startups turn toward social networks to raise funds for their ventures. Many media products, ranging from album releases to independent films, have been funded through popular crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
Legacy media companies are also getting into the game of making entrepreneurial investments. Turner Entertainment started an accelerator program called Media Camp that provides mentoring and seed funding to a handful of promising media startups each year. They’re not alone.
For the past two years, Sprockit has showcased a few dozen promising media startup companies on the trade floor at the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual NABShow in Las Vegas. These companies range in subjects from social media for broadcast news stations (Social News Desk) to a sports video capturing and sharing app (SportXast). Sprockit receives support from Comcast, Disney ABC Television Group, Cox Media Group, Gannett Broadcasting, Google, Hearst Television, Tribune Broadcasting, Univision Communications and the AARP.
Recognizing the changing media environment, universities have been increasingly adding courses and programs pertaining to media entrepreneurship to their curriculum. Much like universities compete on the hardwood each spring, programs for the past few years have been able to compete in Student Startup Madness. The brainchild of Sean Branagan, director of the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, the top teams advance from regional competitions to the “Entrepreneurial Eight” finals, held at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas each year.
Despite our journals leading the way in publishing seminal research on media entrepreneurship for at least a decade now (e.g. Hoag & Seo, 2005; Hoag, 2008; Hang & Van Weezel, 2007; Haas, 2011), our field of Media Management and Economics has been, for the most part, largely missing from the current curricular push to expand media entrepreneurship efforts. Ferrier (2012) notes that these courses, called “digital media entrepreneurship,” “media entrepreneurship,” “entrepreneurial journalism,” or “new media ventures,” are designed to introduce students to entrepreneurship and the startup culture.
A 2013 report on the state of entrepreneurial journalism education (note: link downloads file) in six countries (Vázquez Schaich & Klein, 2013), concludes that there are ample opportunities to increase collaboration between entrepreneurial journalism efforts with those of our media management and economics field.
In fact, in the United States at least, “entrepreneurial journalism” has been leading the media entrepreneurship movement, often funded through journalism-oriented foundations (e.g. Knight Foundation at CUNY, Arizona State and others; Scripps Howard at Ohio University).
While journalism is certainly important, a narrower focus on entrepreneurial journalism rather than a more broader emphasis on media entrepreneurship could unnecessarily exclude student innovation in areas such as film and television entertainment, music, sports media, and technology (which you’ll recall is media per Cindy Royal), just to name a few. More often than not journalism innovation in the past decade has occurred from outside traditional journalism industries. Meanwhile, many stalwarts in our field of media management and economics find themselves in business schools, not communication schools.
As colleges and universities expand their programmatic offerings, more is certainly better than less. I’m buoyed by these efforts and excited by what the future holds as more and more universities equip students with an entrepreneurial mindset to innovate in a variety of media industries.
Our division not only can, but perhaps should, play a bigger role in leading and shaping these changes. With media entrepreneurship part of the global theme of the next World Media Economics and Management Conference in New York City, the 2016 event makes for a perfect platform to showcase our division’s scholarship and pedagogy in these areas. But we don’t have to wait two years to continue to make advances in spreading media entrepreneurship.
We can continue to stoke the flames of media entrepreneurship to ensure a passion for innovation burns within the next generation of media creators.
Geoffrey Graybeal, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University, where he teaches courses on Media Entrepreneurship. He serves as bibliographer and community outreach officer for the Media Management and Economics division of AEJMC.