Mediati: incubating new media startups to shake up the legacy media landscape
“If content from old media cannot compete with a 22-year old YouTuber, that’s a problem,” says Mediati’s Content Strategist Simon Park.
Created in 2016, Mediati aims to address issues with the legacy media in South Korea. According to the lab’s Content Strategist Simon Park, they are not transparent about their relations with advertisers and their content is often out-dated:
“Because old media didn’t have to improve user experience, their product is advertisement, and it’s based on the numbers, not the actual experience of the audience. So it’s really out-dated content that doesn’t work on social media. I’m not saying social media or big platforms are our future, but if content from old media cannot compete with a 22-year old YouTuber, that’s a problem.”
The idea was to lure young journalism graduates into starting their own innovative companies before legacy media organisations swoop them up. Two years later, it turns out harder to find media startups than the Mediati team had hoped. Instead of the expected 20, they just got their 14th team on board:
“One thing that we found over the past two years is that it’s not easy for us to find new media startups in the Korean market. Young people don’t think they have the opportunity to create a company and would rather go to the legacy media to start their careers.”
Selection of startups
The incubator is open to anyone in principal. They have an open mentoring program; a 1,5 hour session each month that anyone can apply for:
“We do this thing called Product Field: a German method of product development, that we changed to fit a media model. It helps you find out in less than an hour who your audience is, your product, and possible business models.”
Mediati works with Google Korea. Some of the most successful teams that Mediati ends up training and investing in come from their Google News Lab, that takes place each year from mid-December to the end of February. Since it’s mainly college students applying for the program, it makes sense to organise it during their winter break.
“We teach them the basics of how new media works. After two months we see who are interested in starting a new media and we can actually see who is talented already, and they get a bit of a leg up. They are really talented people, so the competition for them is really high.”
Helping young people start media companies
Selected startups go into a six-month incubation program, which starts with audience research, in the form of interviews:
“One of the startups actually gave up their product. It was the first time they met their audience. They did these one-hour interviews with them and found out that no one wants their product. But finding that out in two weeks is great. And asking their audiences what information they need but currently lack helped them come up with a different product.”
Next, the teams develop their products, and Mediati provides mentoring by simply talking to them about their products and asking questions they had not thought about themselves: “We just talk to them so they realise better what they are doing.”
Finally, they cover the business details, preparing the teams for the next investment round. Mediati spends a lot of time teaching business skills, because even when journalism graduates pursue this path of creating their own company, they lack the entrepreneurial mindset necessary. They were taught to listen to lectures and then create content, explains Simon:
“They grew up thinking about creating content, not a business. The idea of a working business model can be new to them. So we have to start from there. What is a business? What is the difference between running a business and being a YouTuber? Not many people see that difference.“
Learning and adapting faster
Simon believes that the Mediati startups provide real added value to the Korean media landscape:
“They’re so different and innovative because they’re learning to create things, by themselves, by watching YouTube videos, instead of learning how they should do it in the legacy companies.”
It’s important to nourish this, says Simon, as the risk is that young people go into legacy media companies and quickly learn how to work like the others. He draws a parallel with the Teams that apply for the Google Korea incubator:
“Most of the videographers and designers that apply for the program did not major in these subjects. They are auto-didacts, having learned from watching YouTube videos, which means they have more up to date skills, are learning faster, and adopting new ways of working more easily.”
Investment for Impact
The incubator is funded by an investor. “We are totally independent,” says Simon Park about the relationship with their investor. “All that he asks is that we’re more aggressive.”
Having already developed a lucrative business as an online entrepreneur – being the founder of Daum, one of Korea’s top web portals – the investor is not expecting any profit from the startups, and the 40 000 dollars in seed funding he provided is peanuts to him, says Simon. Fortunately, because the media for equity Mediati gets is only 10 per cent and the startups are not making any money yet. According to Simon, his motivations are more related to social impact and challenging the current media landscape:
“He had some contact with old media and he didn’t like it, because their business is not really transparent in terms with their relationships with the advertisers, their going for the number of clicks. He doesn’t like the state of Korean media and I totally agree with him. So his goal is not having a new media under his belt. But if there’s a couple of new media that can shake up this media world in Korea, it will be meaningful for us.”
After the incubator
The challenge is to find deep-pocketed investors to continue after the six months in the incubator are over. Although it’s too early to say anything in terms of actual results, one of the startups did find a partnership with a movie studio for example: “In that particular case, it was not an investment, but sponsored content opportunities, which is a decent model for the media.”
At the same time, investors like to see these kinds of industry relationships, according to Simon, and there’s also increasingly interest from legacy media companies:
“It didn’t happen yet, but they are showing some interest in buying them. For example the owner of an all-print interior design magazine, one of the largest in South Korea, wanted to digitalize their content. She told us she gave up because there was a huge resistance from her paper-based editors. She was looking for new media editors to work on this instead. The deal didn’t go through, but it shows a change in thinking.”
This is an encouraging sign as Mediati hopes to shake up the legacy media landscape in South Korea. However, so far the change seems to be coming to legacy media through global corporations, like DailyMotion and VICE. As they’re looking to set up Korean offices, they reach out to new media initiatives like Mediati.
Andrea joined the Global Alliance for Media Innovation as the INJECT Project Coordinator in 2017. She is interested in media innovation labs, journalism startups and other new initiatives to understand how media innovation works exactly and how it could be stimulated.