Budget Cuts Close Turner Tech Office, Startup Accelerator

By Scott Kirsner |  January 7, 2015

Late December brought another unfortunate example of corporate budget cuts bringing the curtain down on an innovation team — this one at Turner Broadcasting, part of $30 billion media giant Time Warner. Turner, which operates cable channels like CNN, TBS, and Cartoon Network, had said earlier in the year that it would eliminate about 1,500 jobs, and it has also cancelled several shows.

Turner shut down a San Francisco emerging technology office that had opened in 2011, and had been overseen by VP of Emerging Technology Balaji Gopinath, right, and run by Sandy Khaund. The office launched and operated the media industry’s first accelerator program for startups, Media Camp, which we covered in 2013. Through that program, Turner had made small investments in 27 startup companies working on media and entertainment-related concepts. Many of the startups worked with Turner divisions on pilot projects and demos.

Gopinath told InnoLead in 2013 that a primary goal of the accelerator was to help Turner “figure out what the net generation of entertainment products and services will look like.” Turner had organized three annual sessions of the Media Camp program, beginning in 2012.

One former employee of the San Francisco office told us, “We, along with other very talented people, were simply victims of a tightened balance sheet.” Turner still maintains an emerging technologies team at its Atlanta headquarters.

Below is an excerpt from an e-mail Gopinath sent announcing the closure of the office and the accelerator.

“…After much debate and discussion, the San Francisco Media Camp team and I are leaving Turner Broadcasting in December 2014. Turner has decided to shut down its San Francisco Media Camp office and its Emerging Technology staff on the west coast.

A little over three years ago, the Emerging Technology team at Turner Broadcasting set out to build a better way to become part of the evolving startup media and advertising ecosystem and find unique ways for big media companies to invest, mentor, and embrace the change we saw coming to our world. Media Camp was born through this thinking and as an idea in my head even before I joined Turner four years ago.

We began this journey because we were frustrated with an approach that we believed, was dated and fragmented. When it came to innovation and being more agile, big media was moving slow and the consumer’s needs were not being met in a world that was changing at a dramatic pace. With this, we launched Media Camp at SXSW in 2012. Media Camp grew to include Media Camp LA run by our sister company Warner Brothers. Together we envisioned ways to change and influence how big media companies go to market around television, film, studios and live broadcasting with respect to news and sports programming. Our Emerging Technology team harnessed this engagement further by launching the first video apps on Google Glass and working with many of the wearable devices and technologies early on including Samsung Gear. We also filed multiple patents around smart televisions, mobile monetization, and advertising, all the while, learning from, influencing, and working with startup organizations and nascent technologies.

As we continued our journey, we received overwhelming support from many of you, Turner brands, and executives throughout the Time Warner universe and peer media landscape. We also found that we hit the right mix with the startup ecosystem as applications grew over 200% year over year. Through this, we were fortunate enough to invest, work with and learn from over 27 amazing startups over three years with several companies being acquired, and others continuing to thrive and grow.

As much as we garnered support and had some great wins, we also encountered significant challenges from both internal and external forces. While our impact to the media industry and Turner/Time Warner have been significant, in the final analysis, we have not found the clarity and direction that we needed to continue. We have been fortunate to be part of an incredible journey that has influenced our media partners as well as many other corporates that have launched similar endeavors. The team and I stay steadfast in our personal commitments to the mission we started to change the face of media and we hope that our colleagues at Turner and Warner Brothers continue to change the world and push forward.

We are also thankful for all the support and encouragement that allowed us to build something special that will continue to flourish…

Thank you for being part of this journey and I hope to cross paths with you all in the future as the next chapter unfolds.

With sincerest thanks and gratitude,

Balaji Gopinath

Founder, Media Camp”

Another Time Warner division, the movie studio Warner Bros., had launched its own accelerator program for media and entertainment startups; that one may continue in 2015.