Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Jeremy Bout and Francois Driessen -- Media Missionaries

There are two kinds of media entrepreneur -- the media merchant and the media missionary. The media missionary is unique in entrepreneurship, according to our research, in that his or her principal motivation to start a media enterprise is to tell a story. They are passionate about their message. According to Scott Shane in The Illusion of Entrepreneurship, the reason most people start a business is because they don't like working for someone else. That may also be true with media missionaries, but it's mostly their passion for a story, a particular story. Sometimes a really specific story.

Such is the case with a media entrepreneur I recently talked to, Jeremy Bout. He and his partner Francois Driessen started underhouse studios and a new kind of video production, The Edge Factor Show. The message they want everyone to get is about the role of manufacturing in North America -- it's importance to the economy, culture and society.

You're thinking that doesn't sounds like a story anyone would be so passionate about they'd launch a company? Even kind of a snore? Take a look at their documentary about the Chilean miners' amazing rescue and CRI, the Pennsylvania drilling products company that made it possible. You'll have a new appreciation for the people who design and produce drill bits. The message I got after I watched the video -- and these are words I never dreamed I'd write: Drill bit manufacturing is all creativity, expert knowledge and gritty experience plus tenacity and compassion (really!) -- and it saved 33 miners' lives.

But even more, what you see in Jeremy and Francois is their passion for telling a story. (You see it in Jeremy -- who appears in the documentary -- when he gets excited about a 1940's drill machine.) This is what makes them media missionaries.

Why do I blog about media missionaries? Because they are evidence that our media system is healthy. I see rather a lot of criticism of the media -- that big corporations control it and limit the diversity of viewpoints or dumb it down or get it wrong or serve base tastes. Sure, it's easy to find examples. But there are about 110,000 communications companies in the U.S. alone -- and that's just the ones the U.S. Census can find to count. There are many hundreds of thousands worldwide launched by people like Jeremy and Francois. All telling stories, getting messages out to audiences.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Do you have what it takes to be a media entrepreneur?

I get asked what it takes to be a media entrepreneur. My extensive interviews with media entrepreneurs suggest that a passion to get your message out there is a key success factor, whether it's publishing hip-hop novels (Vickie Stringer), producing Bible verse music cartoons (Bear Cahill) or launching the first videoblog (Andrew Baron). Still, folks seem to want something a bit more science-y. So, here's a collection of online self-assessment tools -- and I make no claims their results mean anything! But they're fun and will get you thinking. Take a quiz or two and see how you rate!

The Kauffman Foundation is always a good place to start. Try:

Here are some others...two seem to be Canadian government-sponsored leading me to wonder what's up up north!

Have fun!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The original media entrepreneur missionaries

Media entrepreneurs are either "missionaries or merchants," as I've written before. My research partner Ben Compaine came up with the term when he remembered another media scholar had coined the phrase 50 years ago to describe early magazine entrepreneurs. The term "missionaries" got me thinking.

Religious media groups, particularly evangelical and fundamentalist Christian ministries, may well have been the earliest media entrepreneurs in the U.S. Some of the most active publishers in North America in the 18th and 19th centuries were spiritually motivated organizations, Moody being established by the 1870s. They saw publishing as a way to spread the good news, as it were. Growth in demand for Christian media content today is served by thousands of new entrants and long-established small enterprises. Whether for-profit or not, whether large or small, whether family-owned or publicly traded stock companies, they all appear to be "missionaries." Based on a small sample I've analyzed, these "missionary missionaries" can act just like any successful media entrepreneur. They are early adopters of information and communications technologies (ICTs). They compete by exploiting unserved niches left behind by big media conglomerates. Their strategic behavior looks a lot like those used by so-called big media.

Early Adopters. Christian evangelists are often the among the very earliest adopters of ICTs from radio broadcasting in the 1920s to IPTV today. Adoption of radio broadcasting by evangelist groups emerged before there was ever a model of commercial radio and likewise, as soon as television broadcasting licenses became available, evangelists lined up to apply. One of the very first DBS licensees issued by the FCC in the early 1980s was a Christian television start-up, Sky Angel. Sky Angel recently launched their multi-channel tv and radio service on IPTV -- another example of early ICT adoption. Booples, a tiny start-up Christian-based producer of children's animation (see my earlier post), adapted a range of off-the-shelf software packages and collaborates online with free-lance suppliers.

Serving the Unserved. As my prior research has shown, media entrepreneurs don't fear the big media conglomerates like Time Warner or Disney, they practically rejoice at all the opportunity big media fail to see. So it is with missionary missionaries. The Bible is the best selling book year in, year out. But who sees this as an opportunity? Tynedale House Publishing is a tiny family-owned business in suburban Chicago yet they hold a full 10 percent of the market share for religious publishing, a nearly $1 billion/year business. Early on, niche record labels like Provident Music Group identified the incipient Christian music market (and by the time the major labels figured it out, their only means of establishing a foothold was to buy in -- Sony/BMG now owns Provident). Telemundo and Univision may have dominated the U.S. Spanish broadcasting market but did they see the substantial demand for evangelical and fundamentalist Spanish programming? A host of "missionary missionaries" did.

Strategic Behavior. Vertical and horizontal integration. Mergers and acquisitions. Inimitable business models. Exclusivity arrangements. Scale economies.These are a few of the numerous ways "missionary missionaries" have attained and sustained competitive advantage. The 5th and 7th largest radio station group owners (but still small by radio business standards) are respectively AFA and Salem Communications, both conservative Christian-based enterprises; they got that way through acquisition. Salem has taken integration further by expanding horizontally into other product markets (magazine publishing and web) and geographically -- they hold positions in 23 of the top 25 U.S. cities. A broadcast TV and cable network operator, TBN's diversification strategies include developing brands around four different networks for four completely different audiences.

I'm barely scratching the surface of this complex media market. Most companies are privately held and many are non-commercial so it may not be easy to fully describe the industry. Even the many Christian media trade organizations (NRB, GMA, etc.) don't have a full grip on what's going on. But I believe it's dominated by media entrepreneurship. Big media has just begun to see what they've been missing.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

More About Outsourcing News Production

News organizations give the impresion that they do not publish news produced by independent "suppliers." The wire services don't seem to count. And I think the concept of stringers has been around for a while. So they do source their content. Nothing wrong with that: it's efficient. (So long as it really is journalism. Trojan horse fake news packages abound: )

Yesterday I mentioned Pro Publica, a new enterprise that will produce investigative journalism for downstream distribution to newspapers. It's just the next step in the natural unwinding of integrated stages of news production. It happens naturally in industries where scale and scope economies are possible. Sometimes public policy "encourages" it as it did in the U.S. with the Paramount Decrees, the old Fin-Syn rules, the MFJ of 1982 and the 1992 Cable Act.

Here's another new kind of news "supplier" : It's photo-journalism for sale (sometimes to the highest bidder -- more about that later). Partly a response to newspapers' cutting back on their in-house photo-journalism, Brian Storm, a photo-journalist himself launched the firm because, "It’s simply not that hard to create a good financial structure for photojournalism," as he told me in an interview last May.

Storm, like Steiger with Pro Publica, recognized an opportunity. "I think photojournalism is super important to the way people understand the world."

And then, like all media entrepreneurs I call "media missionaries," he uttered these words: “I didn’t want to start this thing…You know I didn’t start it as a business…I mean I’m an entrepreneur but I’m more an entrepreneur with a mission.”

p.s. When you go to mediastorm's site, you MUST view Kingsley's Crossing A riveting story told in photojournalism.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Entrepreneur Starts Investigative Journalism Enterprise

Paul E. Steiger, editor at the Wall Street Journal is launching Pro Publica, an organization to produce and distribute investigative journalism to media outlets who've stopped producing the product themselves. See the Times story at Mr. Steiger's leap into media entrepreneurship is the clearest example I've yet seen of a media missionary doing what comes naturally to all entrepreneurs: perceiving an opportunity and acting on it. Granted, the revenue model seems to rely on cash infusions from Steiger's wealthy partners. But I see the potential for it to morph into a conventional sales model driven by a natural evolution in the business. In the same way that Henry Ford's original River Rouge model (produce every input of an automobile in a single plant) gave way to today's system of auto makers sourcing most parts, the emergence of Pro Publica looks like one of many suppliers to the news distribution sector. It's more efficient.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Media Entrepreneurs: Missionaries or Merchants?

As part of my ongoing research project on media entrepreneurship, my friend Ben Compaine and I started interviewing media entrepreneurs over a year ago. (That's how I found Bear Cahill, profiled in a previous post.) In analyzing the interview transcripts, we noticed two distinct types of media entrepreneur. One group shared the mindset common to all entrepreneurs; we labeled them merchants. The other group, however, didn't seem to fit -- they hardly seemed like entrepreneurs at all, except that they had started or were in the process of starting a media business. They talked about their reluctance in starting a business. Diving into entrepreneurship seemed, to this group, a last resort because no one else would do it. "It" was a message or mission to carry out. That group we called the missionaries. Ben recalled Ted Peterson's 1964 history of the magazine business in which he described new leaders ("new" referring to 1900 to 1940) as missionaries or merchants. The appeal of alliteration aside, the terms perfectly capture the archetypes we saw emerging. Here's my graphic depicting a continuum, from a pure merchant to missionary to a group we call "citizen-mediamakers,"whom we distinguish from missionaries in that they are not monetizing their media.

Why does it matter that there are two kinds of media entrepreneur? We believe this kind of entrepreneur may be unique to media industries. From a public policy standpoint, there are millions of potential media missionaries out there who should be encouraged to start a media enterprise. Then we'd have tremendous diversity in viewpoints and we could all stop worrying about media concentration.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

I've been busy. Sorry about that.

Forgive my infrequent (that's an understatement) blogging . I hope to make it a habit to post quality updates on media entrepreneurs and media entrepreneurship.

In my research on media entrepreneurs, I've met a number of fascinating people. If these folks are typical of entrepreneurs who choose to start media companies, then the future of media and its ability to inform, entertain and engender civic engagement are in good hands. I'll introduce you to some of them on this blog. My focus is on how entrepreneurs discover or recognize a media opportunity and then exploit it.

Let me start with Bear Cahill and his media enterprise, Booples. See Bear recently launched this animation business aimed at teaching children Bible stories through song. He got the idea at a child's birthday party -- learning and singing songs is something children do very naturally. He knew about the very successful product, Veggie Tales (see He recognized a business opportunity: A dabbler in animation, an IT professional by day and evidently quite knowledgable about the Bible, he had all the inputs for a one-person enterprise in children's DVDs. He made his first videos and Booples was born. Bear has developed a low-cost promotion technique as well -- I found Booples mentioned at several blogs and sites targeting Christian audiences. I expect he is building a brand essentially for free.

Booples is a tiny business with a highly niched product. So what's important about Bear's entrepeneurship? He recognized and exploited an idea into a media business. That's one more "voice" out there in the media marketplace. If the economic census is to be believed, there are as many as 110,000 other similar small media entrepreneurs in the U.S. Imagine that on a global scale. In toto, that's a lot of voices to Rupert's single, albeit big, "voice."