Time Warner Cable, Hearst, HBO and Verizon are helping to fund the fledgling NYC Media Lab as part of a media-industry effort to encourage and benefit from research in the same way that tech companies already do.
NYC Media Lab, which fosters alliances between corporations and data and media researchers at the city's universities, is a collaboration among the New York City Economic Development Corp., Polytechnic Institute of New York University and Columbia University, modeled on existing media labs at MIT and Stanford. It opened its doors in 2010 with the help of a $250,000 commitment from the EDC, but in the past year has secured the four media companies' promises to provide $50,000 a year each for three years. As paying charter members, the companies are afforded access to the findings of research work conducted on the behalf of other participants. "We're connecting our charter corporate members with students and faculty," said Roger Neal, executive direct at NYC Media Lab. "Each is conducting what we call a seed research project with a local university," Mr. Neal added, noting that the lab's mission extends to all universities in the city. The media companies' initial research topics deal with mobile, video delivery and TV metrics, he said, declining to elaborate.
Non-paying corporate participants in lab projects include many big names in tech, media and the ad agency world, including AOL, Apple, Facebook, Foursquare, Yahoo, Zynga, Conde Nast, Bloomberg, MTV, The New York Times, Digitas, Euro RSCG, Havas, Ogilvy, Razorfish and WPP.
There has been "sort of a disconnect in the city between the academic sector and digital media," said Mr. Neal, adding that tech firms like Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have a history of working in conjunction with academics. "The researchers were going to different cities to work, and companies were going to work with researchers in different cities," he said.
"I think that's changing around the country and around the world and New York City Media Lab is a good stimulus for that," said Ken Bronfin, senior managing director of Hearst Ventures, the firm's strategic investment arm. In addition to gaining research results, Mr. Bronfin suggested that working with NYC Media Lab could help him discover ideas that could lead to new businesses. Hearst has worked with the MIT Media Lab for around 20 years and has a relationship with the University of Missouri as well.
"My job is to sort of create introductions and to stimulate thinking... to take ideas from my company and try to get them in front of the universities," said Mr. Bronfin, who said a few people from Hearst work with NYC Media Lab.
A recent discussion among publishers and researchers from various schools centered on the best business models for monetizing content, Mr. Bronfin added. "What is likely to come of that is probably more specific research," he said.
The NYC Media Lab last week held a roundtable event focused on TV and data science. Digital interfaces were the subject of another event in February.
The academic-corporate partnership is part of a broader trend emerging, especially as a result of the surfeit of data rushing in to corporate databases via digital platforms. Many schools -- including Michigan State, Northwestern University, Kansas State University, Yale and Ohio State University -- have teamed with corporations on data research efforts. The projects bring in valuable funding and resources to the schools, while helping produce the next generation of much-needed data science professionals.
"In the past people have gone to business schools for their analytical talent…. Now many companies are looking for people who are kind of a hybrid statistician-computer scientist," Mr. Neal said. "You have to have some sort of farm system where you grow these people."