NYC Media Lab

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What is the name of your company? What’s its mission, and how did it come to be?

NYC Media Lab, founded in 2010, connects technologists in digital media and technology companies with bright minds in New York City’s universities. A public-private partnership launched by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), Columbia University, and New York University, the lab hosts events and seeds projects to foster collaboration across a range of disciplines core to the future of media. Participating universities include: NYU, Columbia, CUNY, the School of Visual Arts, the New School, IESE, and Pratt Institute. The lab’s 18 member companies range from the Associated Press and Audible to Verizon and Viacom.

Tell us about a project you’re currently developing or recently launched. How is it impacting the tech industry and New York City at large?

NYC Media Lab recently launched the first cycle of the Combine, a start-up boot camp and grant program focused on commercializing media technologies from the city’s universities. The program is supported by funding from the New York City Economic Development Corporation, the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, and through the support of NYC Media Lab’s corporate membership.

The goal for the Combine is to match new technologies emerging in university labs, studios, classrooms and dorms with a program and resources to commercialize them. Key to the proposition is mentorship and market access from technologists and executives at NYC Media Lab member companies.

What makes New York an ideal home for the tech industry? What do you envision as the future of tech in New York City?

The idea for NYC Media Lab came out of a scenario planning exercise conducted by NYCEDC called Media.NYC.2020. Many of the industry executives, government officials, and other civic leaders that participated in the effort at the beginning of the decade were rightly concerned about the future of a vital sector that employs more than 300,000 New Yorkers. Taken together, the financial crisis, the threat from disruptive West Coast technology companies and emerging competitors in new global media capitals, all signs suggested that New York’s media industry was in for a challenging period of technological and business model disruption, and potentially a net loss of jobs.

Fast forward to 2015—halfway to the 2020 date that the Media.NYC.2020 report tried to imagine—and the industry has certainly been through a great deal of change. Despite bumps in the road, the more optimistic scenario seems to be playing out. Digital is paying off, as consumers and advertisers spend ever more on media and entertainment. Advertising continues to grow, driven by digital.

In this context, a raft of relatively new media companies headquartered in New York are on a hiring tear, from BuzzFeed and Vox to Vice and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. And while the future is not evenly distributed, on the whole technology has created new opportunities for established media companies, who have in many ways adopted the agile practices of the tech industry. Media has “staffed up” to compete in the new world order, with a focus on adopting emerging technologies and acquiring digital talent, particularly with skills in engineering and design.

And New York has changed. The city has completed a remarkable transition since the financial crisis, with tech among the sectors leading the way in employment growth. Media and advertising executives can walk down the street to do business with Google, Facebook, Twitter, IBM, and others who have built large operations in the city. New York is exploding with start-ups, many focused on digital media and communications. Incubators and co-working spaces are full—more than ever before the city feels like one giant campus. A thriving venture capital and investment community, including a variety of new corporate venture activities, supports entrepreneurship, as do the city’s institutions of higher education. Columbia, NYU, CUNY, Cornell Tech, and others have all invested in incubators and entrepreneurship programs that are growing rapidly across the campuses.

These developments in New York’s tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem, combined with growing technical literacy across the sector, means the boundary between “media” and “tech” is increasingly blurred. This is good news for New York in the long run. While the West Coast may retain certain advantages in tech, the diversity of industries, consumers, and talents in the city makes New York an attractive place for new and old companies that are comfortably blurring the lines between different verticals.

This all takes place against the backdrop of global growth in the media sector. By 2025, PricewaterhouseCoopers projects there will be a 16 % increase in employment in media and entertainment in the top 30 global cities, reaching a cumulative 6.8 million jobs. New York will continue to compete in this context: presently NYC is the only developed city among the 10 that Pricewaterhouse believes will see employment growth in media, reflecting the Big Apple’s generally strong employment outlook. And New York’s media industry will inevitably continue to look abroad for growth: the demographics and rapid digital adoption in emerging markets will see the companies headquartered here continue to invest heavily in building global businesses.

Follow NYC Media Lab on Twitter: @nycmedialab