Somewhere out there, someone has the next big innovation for television in mind. It could be the next important television network. It could be the interactive, 3D or virtual world services that capture the public's imagination and breaks these genres open to mass acceptance. It could be the venture taking this medium in a new, previously unimaginable direction.
The someones are out there, trust me. The someones, whether from New York, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, down south, southwest or the heartland, are working like heck to turn their content or technology ideas into sound business reality. These someones are up against the tough economic landscape of recent memory, and it doesn't help that venture capitalists and angel investors, who spend about $25-$30 billion, that's billion, a year on investments spanning from the Web to biotech, and have billions of unspent dollars on their side to boot, largely steer away from TV investment.
New television ventures create new jobs, and new jobs are what's needed to restore this economy to good shape. Yet the position of most VCs and angels continues to be passive. We don't fund TV, so buzz off. When journalists like me question why this is their position, despite the fact that they fund Internet technology and tech, or the fact that a handful of VCs have defied this unofficial attitude and funded such worthy enterprises like TV One, SiTV, HealthiNation, Gospel Music Channel, and most video-on-demand server providers and bandwidth expansion firms like BigBand Networks, you get back arrogance and a ton of nonsensical excuses.
With the exception of CableLabs, most television industry organizations don't deal on a regular basis with VCs and angels, or invite them to rethink their position and not blow off new TV possibilities. It also doesn't help that the organizations VCs and angels fund, such as the National Venture Capital Association, don't encourage or showcase TV investment, or that conferences VCs/angels attend don't expose them to new TV directions and investment possibilities.
So where can this TV industry turn to get new enterprises running? The answer, for me, lies in Flagstaff, Arizona, home to the Northern Arizona Center for Emerging Technologies. It's an incubator for promising ventures in energy, semiconductor and other tech fields that I learned about during NYC Entrepreneurs Week this past spring. Operating since 2001, NACET helps companies get off the ground through start-up funds, executive assistance and mentoring. The seed funding companies receive comes from a consortium of public and private sources, including the local government and chamber of commerce, and a set of investors, so-called "superangels," who direct $10-12 million the incubator's way. (The maximum most angels fund on individual ventures is $1-2 million.)
The only stipulation to an incubated participant: they must be based in Flagstaff or have the majority of their workers living in the city. Once the business has reached a particular revenue target, they fly off on their own.
Nearly 30 companies have used NACET to get their businesses going. The venture's current class of 12 users include Foresight Wind Energy, Keya Earth (development of land resources) and semiconductor start-up Quantance. This group has generated more than 50 high-wage jobs in Flagstaff, and is expected to earn about $20 million in revenues this year.
What's working in Flagstaff could easily be duplicated elsewhere. So here's my proposition: let's get a TV incubator or two launched somewhere, with at least 6-12 new companies participating. Set up such an organization in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or somewhere else with the kind of investment mechanism NACET works with. Make sure there's a mix of content and technology ventures under the same house, and have at least half of the incubated companies owned/managed by, or targeting, people of color.
Check out www.nacet.org, then let's roll up the sleeves, get in communication and realize a TV incubator or two as quickly as possible. Someone out there has the next big innovation for television in mind, and many more of us have the dollars, willpower, or both, to be cause in the matter of it.
Observations from the passing parade:
**If you wonder who's behind the debacle at the end of the recent Daytime Emmy Awards ceremony, described in Ed Martin's column, wonder no more. The CW, which carried the program, insisted in advance to the company producing the program on a 10 p.m. ET finish, no matter what. No exceptions. So The CW made an exceptional blunder for which it owes an apology to The Bold & The Beautiful cast and producers. Yes, the telecast was the highest-rated CW Sunday primetime show in a year, while being the lowest-rated Daytime Emmy ever (less than 2.7 million viewers)--half the audience of the 2008 ABC presentation.
**Somebody please tell Dow Jones, Nielsen and the organizers of their annual "Media & Money" fall conference in New York that TV is part of media. For the second year in a row, the conference doesn't have a single panel focused on TV, with all the issues this medium faces. Another exceptional blunder in the making, and another TV showcase for VCs and angels down the tube.
**New Tang Dynasty Television, the cable/satellite network directed at Asian-Americans generally and Chinese-Americans in specific, does something more channels should think about doing: competitions uncovering new talent. The network's ambitious slate of competitions include dance, violin, piano, martial arts, fashion, photography and cuisine. Get the details at www.ntdtv.com and if you're in NY when these events happen, head for them and be nicely surprised.
Simon Applebaum is host/producer of Tomorrow Will Be Televised, the weekly Internet radio program covering the TV scene. The program runs on Mondays and selected Friday afternoons over www.blogtalkradio.com.
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