Public media outlet KQED enters the startup game

By Caleb Garling

Bay Area public radio darling, KQED, will invest $1.25 million in an incubator designed to foster innovation in today’s unstable media industry.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a media think tank, will match the amount to create an initial $2.5 million fund called Matter Ventures. The new startup incubator — firms that provide investment and resources for tiny companies — will look for ideas that create a more “informed, connected and empowered society,” says Matter CEO Corey Ford.

The rise of mobile devices, and an Internet brimming with content — most of it free — has catalyzed the destabilization of modern media’s traditional revenue models. Advertisers are increasingly seeing less bang for their buck, as consumers hesitate to pay for news and content, wilting the dependable revenue of subscriptions.

Matter hopes to leverage nearby Silicon Valley to find new ideas for modern media.

“We are completely open to the ways (potential entrepreneurs) go about it,” Ford, a former design professor at Stanford, says. The ideas have to be creative in the way they connect people to information, but, he points out, they have to make money. “If it’s not viable, it’s not innovation — it’s creativity.”

There have been plenty attempt at innovation already — but not many firm solutions. The Daily, a publication that optimized content for the iPad, announced today that it will soon cease publication. Though the iPad was the hottest device around when News Corp launched the publication 21 months ago, the bet seems to have backfired. Representatives from The Daily attributed low subscriber numbers to its demise.

The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times, among other big publications, have erected “paywalls” where online readers pay for content. Magazines, like Wired, charge extra for content on tablets. Charging on a per-article-read basis is another idea under scrutiny.

The media’s business model issues are not necessarily new — just more pronounced. In the early 80s writer and free-thinking icon Stewart Brand noted, quite presciently, that as communication technology advances, information will simultaneously want to be free and expensive. Dissemination costs will go down — driving down price — but the information itself will still provide great value to the reader — so media companies will want to charge appropriately. That tension, Brand said, will lead to consternation — and it won’t go away.



About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit