You know that licking of your lips and grasping at air that one does when trying to put in to words a dream. How you think through, as you’re talking with someone, something you just can’t quite simplify. What I’m thinking about is not a dream but a vision. Something magical is happening by way of Austin, Texas and to see it, it seems, requires dreaming; having your head in the clouds so as to look down on everything from 30,000 feet.
That photo, taken by Ralph Arvesen, characterizes Austin more than the famous skyline photos we frequently see, which paint for everyone an images of what Austin is. This photo, with the convergence of music, video, and graphic design, in a photograph, behind which the thriving downtown is seen overshadowing cranes erecting future, while Samsung GALAXY, the smartphone, adorns the banner, and trees backdrop the concert, this photo is a multilayered glimpse of Austin.
Earlier this week I had a moment that crystalized that vision. An experience that distinguished what Austin is, and could be. I found myself at Starbucks (yes, I realize, not supporting our local coffee), there because I was up the road from Concordia University where the new Incubator for Innovation and Impact was just announced. This part of town is what you might think of as my Austin. Austin is easily conceived of as your experience downtown, what you see in skyline photos and the news of it being the best place for startups, or when you’re here for SXSW, ACL, Voice & Exit, or in THIS photo of East Austin. And in some respects, those images are accurate: a concerted collision of talent, growth, and excitement. But Austin is so much more, from the tech corridor of the NW, to the creative spirit evident in East Austin, the city is diverse, metropolitan, and thriving.
What if we could grasp WHY that’s the case? While we wrestle with the growth, spread, traffic issues, and frustrations that emerge because of that, what if we could instead embrace that it’s happening to Austin because of something incredible?
Austin is Metropolitan
The Starbucks in West Austin is my perception of Austin and dare I say, to the chagrin of the old Keep Austin Weird culture, I love our Austin. I love my experience with Austin just as much as I love the distinction of 6th street (both sides), The Domain, SoCo, East Austin, the University of Texas campus, Zilker Park, and more. That’s Austin. I don’t care for the fact that we’re doing little to deal with traffic infrastructure as a result of our growth but I will go on record and say that I love that we’re developing Dripping Springs, connected to Georgetown, partners with Cedar Park, looking to San Marcos and Texas State, and beyond. R.C. Hobbs Professor of Urban Studies at Chapman University in California, Joel Kotkin noted in Forbes our future to an even greater extent: Austin is merely a book end to the fastest growing metropolitan region in the country.
“In fact,” notes Kotkin, “there is no regional economy that has more momentum than the one that straddles the 74 miles between San Antonio and Austin. Between these two fast-growing urban centers lie a series of rapidly expanding counties and several smaller cities, notably San Marcos, that are attracting residents and creating jobs at remarkable rates.”
I sat in my Starbucks, on the west side of Austin, lake country, a good 40 minutes from the core of the city, and two students across from me sat soldering a portable Sony speaker to a Raspberry Pi while coding it to play a concerto they wrote. Yes, sitting in Starbucks. The young man next to me playing a Massively Online Multiplayer war game with a Corsair Gaming headset on, chatting with his teammates; while his friend wrote a book on his tablet. End of the table was a young woman editing a video on her laptop. At Starbucks.
One of the students saw the Galvanize, DivInc, Bunker Labs Austin, San Antonio Entrepreneur Center, General Assembly, The DEC, The Iron Yard, Pitch-a-Kid, and Austin Coding Academy stickers on my laptop and asked what I do for a living.
“Create jobs for what you do,” I replied.
People are coming to this region of the country as though fleeing the old world for a new. Perhaps that’s precisely what we should be celebrating. As families and professionals leave the coasts as they are, and have been for years, the consistency is that for more than a decade, they’ve been moving to Central Texas. Since 2001, Kotkin mentioned again in Forbes, Austin’s STEM workforce has expanded 35%, compared to 10% for the country as a whole, 26% in San Francisco, a mere 2% in New York and zero in Los Angeles. Is it because of Tech? Is technology what draws folks or is it merely what helps distinguish an economy?
I don’t think tech is the industry. Tech is not the draw, the disruption, nor the solution – it fills a gap. Technology evolves, and it is indeed a reason why Austin is experiencing growing pains, but people aren’t leaving Silicon Valley to create it anew, here. What we’re experiencing is the way in which technology plays a role in addressing conflict, inefficiency, and demand. Austin plays a unique role in the global economy and the demand for what we’re doing isn’t because of tech but because of who we really are and how we work. Consider, when the market needed radio back the last century, Guglielmo Marconi alone didn’t invent and disrupt the status quo. André-Marie Ampère, Joseph Henry, Michael Faraday, Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, and others innovated upon one another to change the world and enable music, news, and discourse as it had never before been possible. The tech didn’t do, the media drove the demand for innovation and the technology responded by way of competition and colloration to change things for the better.
Austin on the World Stage
And it’s well beyond 30,000 feet that we need to travel to really see what’s exciting about Austin. People from all walks of life, different industries, various origins, and dispirate experiences are all coming to Austin to live, visit, or meet, looking to how the world is changing.
The Irish Consulate opened the 2nd (or only 3rd?) office in the United States just off Congress, not long ago. The Global Chamber, Greater Austin Asian Chamber, the Hispanic Chamber, the Greater Austin Black Chamber, and The Austin Gay & Lesbian Chamber, Austin Young Chamber, and the West Austin Chamber of Commerce are all growing to support the interests and needs our diverse ecosystem and the demands of it from places near and far, while programs such as DIVInc, Impact Hub, Team Austin, and LevelUp Institute to name just a few are opening the doors.
And it’s in seeing and thinking about ALL of that, from Austin to San Antonio, that I started to see a pattern. The reason we’re all drawn to Austin isn’t the startup scene nor headlines that it’s the best place to start a business, it’s that unique in the world is how the arts are colliding with entrepreneurship.
Austin is STEAM not STEM
What do Austin’s live music community, our incredible video game developers, the film producers, directors, and editors, the extensive community of authors, and, even, advertising professionals have in common? Besides the fact that they’re all in Austin… the arts. Media.
And they are all in Austin.
When the last time you saw a film written, directed, and produced from Silicon Valley? How distinguished is Hollywood in advertising? Do you really think of New York when you think about music?
I’m going to throw a curve ball at you and I don’t want you to take it personally if your heart is set on this narrative: Austin is not the live music capital of the world. Austin is the hub of innovation in media. All of it.
That’s who we are. That’s our future. That creative, culture, and experience, people have with Austin is WHY everyone wants to be here and too, because of technology therein that we’re creating opportunity, jobs, and resources that drive not just the future of Austin but the world. Not sure yet? Many of us call that MediaTech and if you’re familiar with the convention (EdTech, MedTech, BioTech, AdTech) traditional industries all are looking to the role technology as our future is as visionary as flying cars and food delivered on demand – FoodTech, PoliticalTech, FinTech, and more are all the convergences economic development professionals, venture capitalists, and marketers are looking to in finding what careers, companies, and lifestyles look like. And in spite of my (our) use of the word “tech” to distinguish the industry, it’s not really what matters as technology is as ubiquitous as the telephone now in your pocket. It’s the media that is drawing the attention to, opportunity in, and distinction of Austin.
A few months ago, at a great civic event in which I met SaulPaul shortly after the Mayor spoke of Austin’s future, Mayor Adler noted (and in all honesty, I’m recalling his words from memory so if I’m off a bit on your message Mayor, let me know): What is Austin’s Brand?
I’ve been thinking about that for years as telling stories about economies might be the closest thing I have to a hobby (yep, I’m a economy nerd). I pondered if Austin isn’t where technology is coming to life… eh, sure there is something distinct about the tech but tech alone is not Austin… It’s hard to say that we’re the Live Music Capital of the World when we prevent musicians from entertaining us from the streets while we entertain noise complaints lodged against Austin’s most treasured cultural venues… I considered if it’s that industry’s convergence with tech that is our future, in MusicTech, but then again, most of us aren’t working in music.
We are that though. Music, and Tech, and more through our diversity, and what it strikes me that Austin is struggling with is not our growth and evolution (thanks to tech or not) but rather keeping things as they were. KUT and Andrew Flanagan recently noted that Austin’s music struggles are a reflection of what’s going on in the rest of the world but it struck me that here we have a difference. Let’s invent the future. To do that we have to teach it and while our schools excel and are embracing technology in K-12, are they distinct in media? What can we do to reinforce our music, art, film, writing, and even video game excellence in elementary school? Formally and institutionally – the high school to which my kids will go has one of the most recognized marching bands in the state – why not also garage bands, youth produced films, and mobile games?
Media, in the U.S. alone, was nearly a TRILLION dollar industry in 2007 (which is the date I’m referencing because I haven’t bothered to dig deeper). Compare that to the darling Texas industry brand (Oil & Gas) which is a $1.7 trillion global market – which at the U.S. share of Oil (somewhere around 15% depending on who you ask) is a $255 billion market. With 3 of the 10 largest cities in the country in Texas and the Austin/San Antonio corridor the fastest growing metropolitan region, our future isn’t in oil, it’s in media.
Not convinced of the opportunity? As we seek venture capital for innovation and ask from where and to where it’s going, it’s not energy, nor finance, nor medical or communications, it isn’t consumer products in which we all perceive the Unicorns dominate the capital markets. Greater than each of those is Media & Entertainment. Not consumer money into a big media economy – Venture Capital Investment in innovation and job creation: Media & Entertainment. (imagine what happens when we converge that with Software, Information Technology, and Networking… MediaTech)
What’s really amazing? Add back that BioTech and HealthTech investment, combined with Seton, Dell, and the innovation and investment being made IN Austin in our health. Now blend that a bit with this world, our work… have you discovered what SoundWell is doing or seen AXON Virtual Health?
Austin in Entertainment
Not many realize this but everyone’s favorite Shark, Mark Cuban, helped develop the early days of streaming media by way of a little company called Broadcast.com. Granted, call that 3 hours up the road, I share that to help note that many of us miss the amazing work that has been done in and around where we are. If we can overcome our penchant to “Keep Austin…” we might see the diversity and innovation that stems from here, around here, and distinguish Austin not as what was but as the ideal to which we strive. From the early days of Rock and Roll to the move of Certain Affinity (creator of a couple of small games you might know) to Austin, the distinction of where we are is the innovation of the media that enriches our lives. Did you know that Matt Cohen, the founder of One Spot, helped put the Houston Chronicle on the internet?? Or that the founder of the Dallas Entreprenuer Center was the head of strategic planning for MORPHEUS (music streaming, not Laurence Fishburne)?? Have you even seen what Owlchemy Labs is doing in video games with VR and augmented reality? That’s what we’re about.
SXSW helped me see then when Hugh Forrest mentioned last year that for the coming conference, Music, Film, and Interative would further converge, not as so distinct events but in reflection of the fact that music and film are intrinsically interactive, engaging, and innovative forms of media.
I won’t go into the list of companies innovating in music as I’ve done that before, so adding to the C3 Productions, Solstices, and JamFeeds, of Austin, the fact is that EA is here, as is Gary Hoover’s (yes, that Hoover) BigWig Games. KingsIsle Entertainment and Crowfall are Austin game brands and many of us recall the history of Challenge Games and Zynga. On October 12, 2008, Richard Garriott flew aboard Soyuz TMA-13 to the International Space Station as a private astronaut, he created Ultima.
Of course, we’re producing video entertainment as well, and not just producing but celebrating innovation. Whether recognizing that Randall Dark, one of the pioneers of HD Video, calls Austin home, or telling the stories of entrepreneurs and innovators thanks to video producers such as Lyn Graft, Ruben Cantu, Naji Kelly, and Shaggy Welsh, Austin is actually no more visual media by way of our film studios than it is live music. Film producers, editors, animators, and engineers are looking to Austin to innovate and the broader community is looking to keep every form of media supported and thriving.
Can I burden you with more? Keep in mind, we’re looking at the 30,000 foot view. This is the brief of what’s going on. More than music, Austin is at the epicenter of radio innovation and podcasting. Bak Zoumanigui is taking casting to the venues and exploring music and culture, Moby is looking at the economy and how Austin is on fire, Omar Gallaga and Tolly Moseley are talking about Austin via Statesman Shots, Todd Nevins has kicked off a vibrant podcasting community and did you know the Podfather, perhaps familiar to some of you as once MTV VJ, Adam Curry, streams No Agenda and The Big Book Show from Austin? But forget podcasting, thanks to the Moody College at UT (where folks like Jay Bernhardt and Mark Bunting are leading a path), KUT and KUTX, as well as Sun Radio and KGSR, are showing us how radio remains at the forefront of conveying information and entertainment.
Austin is at the epicenter of innovation in music, video, video games, and radio and that work being done is even more evident in the shift this way of well known, corporate media entities such as Comcast moving their R&D to Austin, Samsung investing in VR and 360 here (Virtuix is in Austin with their awesome active VR platform!), Apple and Google ever expanding their teams and offices, hopefully you noted that Will Anderson reported that Magic Leap’s Rony Abovitz set up their R&D Labs in Austin near Zebra Imaging, and IBM’s Watson and Design labs in N. Austin.
Our music scene is so much more extensive and spread than what comes to mind when we think of Red River or even the Austin360 Amphitheater at F1. From The Backyard in Lakeway to Oak Shed Studios, Night Owl Recording, or The Zone Recording Studio in Dripping studios, Austin’s future in music is as extensive as Texas.
But let’s not even look to entertainment or companies in such media. What of the great many jobs and work being done to serve that economy.
Austin in Professional Services
Let’s look first to written media and authors. Just a few weeks ago, my work in MediaTech Ventures hosted nearly a couple hundred of Austin’s written word thought leaders and technology professionals at WP Engine – WP Engine, the online media company that made it simple for would be website producers and authors to get started. Written is based here. So is Scribe Writing. Authors.me was born of Austin (with an OBrien by the way, but the the story of the impact of O’s is another story). Rivet.works has been exploring what companies can do with content written by customers and clients.
That role Rivet plays is in social media, where we also find Spredfast, Sprinklr, People Pattern, and Polygraph Media among many looking to what the social graph will do for our future.
Forget Social MediaTech, consider mobile. Phunware, a mobile app development platform, has raised just shy of a gajillion dollars because it’s here that we’re realizing how mobile applies to both the innovation of tech and the application to media, both contexts more often recognized at what the coasts do. Earlier this year, the company was selected to develop the mobile experience for the Intelligent Health Industry Conference (health tech being something else we’re rather exceptional at in Austin), creating that media rich, mobile experience for a real world environment. And they’re not all!! From the impact of Whurley’s work in Chaotic Moon to what Mutual Mobile and Jackrabbit Mobile are doing to put media in our hands, our collective distinction as an economy is the tech that fuels media.
A few years ago, I had the distinct honor of getting to know Simon Hjorth and AdPeople as we did some work together to explore the role of a media agency in a more entrepreneurial context. I discovered in the experience the breadth of their work in print media and globalization of content for companies like Dell. GSD&M since 1971, as it grew with Roy Spence, Judy Trabulsi, Tim McClure, Steve Gurasich, Ralph Yarborough, has developed Southwest Airline, the PGA Tour, Lennox International, AT&T, the U.S. Air Force, PetSmart, and more. If you’re not familiar with the agency, I’m sure you’ve heard Don’t Mess with Texas – born of Austin and GSD&M. And who can overlook T3 and their incredibly innovative approach to serving the advertising and marketing media ecosystem? The Think Tank is where ideas go to be born! Austin is innovative ad media.
How is that being realized and applied? FloSports, Rocksauce Studios, The CHIVE, Revelator.tv, Rooster Teeth, and Thrillbox, show us, through Austin, how we’re creating new media experiences while on the backend, Front Gate Tickets, Condé Nast, and more are looking to develop the ways in which we engage with that media.
Which brings us to the question of news media…
Austin in News Media
In January, I pulled together with Antone’s, a great group of PR and news media professionals to explore the role of technology in news. Whether the platforms that enable us to report, the business model that’s ever changing, the technology that enables monetization and reach, or the data platforms that are enabling us to hold news in check, technology is as intertwined with news media as any. And yes, Condé Nast, it seems from my point of view, sees that opportunity through Austin.
Late last year, Silicon Hills News reported that the New York based media brand was establishing their Digital Innovation Center here. Huh, sounds a bit like what Comcast realized about Austin too.
“Today it’s all about mobile and video but it’s going to be about AI and VR and we’ll continue to evolve with whatever technology is coming at us next,” shared Condé Nast CEO, Robert Sauerberg, with Laura Lorek. “Condé Nast is going to “go big” in Austin.”
Trendkite, led my point of view that there is innovation being done in Austin that will forever change the news media industry, for the better. While Austin many startups continue to struggle with the availability of local venture capital, evident in Richard Bagdonas’ update to his 2016 Dark Ages of Austin VC article, the fact remains that media oriented technology companies, such as Trendkite, are drawing the attention of talent and capital to Austin because of the way Austin works and how we’re converging the creative talent and culture of the various forms of media with an entrepreneurial spirit necessary in technology. Trendkite is making the news measurable.
Austin Inno, the news media brand that shared Richard’s update, is showing us how new business models, not unlike what our Community Impact papers are exploring, can make news media profitable and viable by way of their look to more hyper-local news and supporting events and the businesses therein. The American Genius arguably does the same, as a global brand, based in Austin and intimately involved in the local community by way of Austin Digital Jobs, BASHH, and the founders role in supporting the local economy.
And that innovation in news is no more evident than in the Austin-American Statesman when you look beyond the fascade that we easily perceive of what we only see. Yes, the tried and true Stateman in the old buildings just south of Town Lake….
A few years back, I wrote A Plea for the Press to Evolve and sparked a bit of controversy as some reporters took umbrage with what technology has been doing to the news media industry for the last 20 years.
Over the past decade, we’ve had a revolutionary shift in how we consume news; and no, I’m not talking about the death of print and the paper as our use of technology has replaced how we consume the news. The shift has been more subtle, more nuanced, and it affects our expectation of the media and affinity to traditional news brands.
In the same way that our musicians have wrestled with the implication of the internet and what it is doing to HOW music makes money, news media has faced the same disruption and where some have struggled with that inevitable change, others have thrived. Omar Gallaga and Lily Rockwell have helped bring the Statesman brand into the era of blogging through 512tech.com while, recall from above, Gallaga and Tolly Moseley have been transforming news print into podcast with Statesman Shots. We see even more of that immigration INTO Austin and establishing our future in media technology as Steve Dorsey has been with the Statesman for three years, following over a decade of news media design and innovation in Detroit.
MediaTech, All, Working Together Like Nowhere Else
Last year, a group of us started developing the resources that could help us all support what’s happening in media. We’re in the early stages of developing MediaTech Ventures but the thousands that have stepped out in support of us affirm that the Austin economy is intrinsically tied to both media and technology.
It’s rather hard to put into words what we’re working to do, and I, more than anyone, should be held to task for saying such a thing since a clear purpose is the singular message I’m delivering during my Startup Pitching workshop with General Assembly and SXSW. So instead, let me share how we think and why I believe with every atom of my being that Austin is MediaTech.
- Media refers to everything on the creative side: film, music, gaming, writing, advertising, social media, etc. The coasts dominate apects of the media and define “media” on their terms. Austin does it all.
- The conceptions of media industries are merely niche’s of that: Books, Blogging, Reporting (applications of written media)
- Tech distrupts but creates opportunity and efficiency
- “Tech” IS NOT limited to internet or startup – The technical side of media is what makes it work, from the designer to the editor, and from the pen to the smartphone, tech enables the capital, market, customer, distribution, and monetization resources that cause media to impact our lives. The radio was technology that fostered music. The sound engineer is the technical resource behind musicians.
- Austin is unique in the world in converging all of those talents and professionals. LA has music but not internet. Silicon Valley has Video Games but not film
Let’s realize that together. Let’s develop that on behalf of the professionals, the agents, the talent, the brands, the events, the entrepreneurs, the teachers, the companies, and residents who make Austin unique, incredible, and thrive as an economy. The brand of Austin.
I’m keeping my pulse on everything going on in our media tech ecosystem, whether that’s venture capital investment, companies moving in, startups finding support, or advertising and sponsorshop driving the economy. I need your help. How can you help? Keep thriving. Keep innovating. Keep collaborating. It may often feel like we’re not getting there, that people are struggling, that some are being left behind or that we’re missing something and that’s because we’re not seeing the forrest through the trees. We’re not looking at Austin from 30,000 feet but rather addressing day-to-day issues when we should instead be celebrating, supporting, teaching, and driving forward for everyone the economy in which we already excel. Keep doing all that we’re already doing and just tell the story with me.
We’re going to distinguish Central Texas’ impact of that trillion dollar media economy as I assure you, it dwarfs what Texas is doing in Oil & Gas. Texas is MediaTech.