Turner, Disney, Bonnier Give Entrepreneurs Funding, Advice -- and Are Seeing Success

How Media Accelerators Have Fared After Camp

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Talk of tech bubbles hasn't dampened media companies' interest in working with startups. In fact, their investments have ballooned given success stories like Turner Media Camp.

The startup accelerator has seen 16 companies go through its camp during its two-and-a-half years of operation. Half of them went on to raise funding after their participation. Two have been acquired; three have yet to launch publicly; and one has shut down. And the startups still in operation have struck deals with larger media companies.

Like Turner, Disney and Bonnier Corp. are now finding that, as digital technology uproots the industry, it's worthwhile to plant the seeds of displacement themselves.

For the handful of startups in each accelerator class, Media Camp offers $20,000 and 12 weeks to build their product and the chance to meet with execs from Turner, as well as other media companies, in hopes of striking business deals. The accelerator is a means for Turner to keep pace with the rapidly changing media landscape.

"You never know where the next great idea will come from," said Balaji Gopinath, Turner Broadcasting VP-emerging technology and Media Camp founder. Through Media Camp, "we spread out the risk of innovation and harvest the best of the best back into the Time Warner universe." Mr. Gopinath also manages Warner Bros. Media Camp, which launched last year.

When Mr. Gopinath and his team are deciding which startups to accept into Media Camp, he solicits input from execs at each of Turner's U.S. brands and evaluates the applicants based on the likelihood they'll sign a business deal within nine to 24 months of joining the program.

Turner's approach stands out compared to independent media startup accelerators like Matter that are focused on product development rather than business development, said Ryan Singel. Contextly, the content-recommendation service launched by Mr. Singel in 2012, exhibited at Matter's demo day in February and joined Turner Media Camp's 2014 class a few months later.

"A couple weeks in [to Turner Media Camp] we ended up going to Atlanta, and in two days had eight different pitches in front of eight different Turner properties," Mr. Singel said. "It's a very different thing than trying to quickly prototype something."

Mr. Singel said his company benefited from being able to fine-tune its product while in Matter's program so that it was more polished when presented to Turner execs during Media Camp. "When we built Matter, by design from the outset I said, 'We cannot build this underneath the roof of any one organization.' It would kill it from the get-go. It would be trapped in the innovator's dilemma: the decision-making process, the culture," said Matter Managing Partner Corey Ford. The former PBS "Frontline" journalist ran Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt's investment firm before launching Matter in late 2012.

Media company-run startup accelerators face other perception issues, like whether they'll prioritize their companies' interests over the startups or whether they'll dissuade startups' from working with competitors. However, Mr. Singel said that hasn't been an issue. Following its participation in Turner Media Camp earlier this year, the startup signed a deal with Thomson Reuters' financial news publication peHUB.

Adam Johnson -- whose TV hardware company Toggle graduated from Warner Bros. Media Camp this year -- has looked at independently run accelerators, but "typically the issues I find are the equity requirements they have, and the other is it's unclear to me what the value proposition is in the sense that most of them are operational: we help you build your brand."

Mr. Johnson developed Toggle after his involvement with a startup in Warner Bros. Media Camp's inaugural class. He kept in touch with various Warner Bros. execs who helped him fine-tune the idea that spawned Toggle's media-streaming dongle. The accelerator's staff also connected him with eventual board members including former Sony Home Entertainment president David Bishop.

Turner and its sibling Warner Bros. aren't the only media companies to have erected homes for startups in recent years. Two years ago Bonnier Corp. created Bonnier Innovation Lab to invest at least $25,000 in four startups and train the young companies in areas like content strategy and audience development. Last year Bonnier created Bonnier Accelerator, which began its second program this month. Earlier this year Disney launched its own startup accelerator. The entertainment giant teamed up with well-regarded startup incubator TechStars to hand out $120,000 apiece to 11 startups.

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