Mediati is forming an army of content makers to shake up South Korea’s staid media landscape.

The accelerator is teaching journalists that startup success requires more than producing compelling content.

By Elaine Ly
Splice Korea

The offices of Mediati are, fittingly, located at the heart of the buzzing creative area that surrounds Hyewha station in central Seoul. An incubator and accelerator for media creatives and journalists who want to become CEOs of their own companies, Mediati was established in 2016 to boost South Korea’s most exciting new media startups.

Simon Park, content strategist for Mediati, says they show South Korea’s most ambitious newshounds that reaching the top of the media industry is about more than just making content.

“With every news organization or media start up, you have to consider the advertisement side: we have the contacts and connections. Then there’s the legality stuff and the business management side,” he says. “Some of these startups are people in their [early] 20s who have just graduated and have no knowledge on this stuff at all. Here, we provide that.”

Mediati's Simon Park says independent content creators can choose to be hobbyists or CEOs. (Photo: Elaine Ly)
Mediati's Simon Park says independent content creators can choose to be hobbyists or CEOs. (Photo: Elaine Ly)

Building a better business

Park, who has a background in startups, says that the trial-and-error experience he gained equipped him with a better understanding of what works — and what doesn’t. Mediati scouts out the startups with the best chance of succeeding in the long-term, offering up a working space, mentorship and cash to get the idea off the ground. In exchange for $40,000 in seed funding, they take a 10 percent share of a company.

To boost that figure to $60,000, Mediati, which is funded through $2 million in backing from retired businessman Jaewoong Lee, requires a 15 percent stake in the firm and commences a four- to six-month trial period. So far, they have invested in 11 startups and are aiming to increase that number to 20 by the end of the year.

“Ultimately, we want to make a meaningful change in the Korea media scene,” Park says.

Each month Mediati receives between five and 10 requests to be considered for the scheme, and they meet for an initial 90-minute discussion with those content creators who spark their interest.

This ‘product field’ phase gets to the nitty gritty of the startup’s potential, canvassing all the tough questions that media creators might find daunting to answer, a process that is necessary, says Park, as investors inevitably will ask the same questions.

“Here’s where we help them to be a better company,” he says. “We know you love creating stuff that is your passion, but you choose if you want to be a hobbyist or a CEO of your own startup. You have to think about how to talk to people with money.”

Funding from Mediati has helped several fledgling startups to grow. (Photo: Elaine Ly)
Funding from Mediati has helped several fledgling startups to grow. (Photo: Elaine Ly)

Finding their footing

And startups that have been brought into the Mediati fold say the experience has changed the way they work, for the better.

Korea Exposé managing editor Haeryun Kang says that before teaming up with Mediati a year ago she was unable to explain how the English-language publication, an independent site focusing on news and culture, worked as a business.

“We got a free business consultant who told us we were so innocent and knew nothing,” she says. “The co-founder was from an academic background and I did journalism.”

“When you’re [running] a startup, you’re a jack of all trades. You can’t just be content makers. I have to be aware of all these money-making ventures. So, we’re learning.”

Korea Exposé essentially was operating as a blog with a loose network of contributors. “Once we had more money we started hiring more full-timers and set up an operation to produce more content regularly and strategically. This whole process, especially nurturing interns [and] writers took some time,” says Kang.

Now, with 120,000 unique site visitors each month and more than 20,000 subscribers, they report on niche stories from South Korea for a global audience without having to sacrifice their editorial independence.

Mediati counts a number of startups among its successes, including the acclaimed social video startup Dotface (which goes by .face), which has found a sizeable audience for original storytelling.

Reporters recently went undercover to investigate an app that was being used as a channel for buying and selling sex with teenagers, producing a compelling investigative piece that included interviews with the sexual predators involved.

It sparked a public petition to change relevant legislation, and Park says, the team is now “seeing revenue come in and hope that Dotface can become an independent operation by the end of the year.”

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Korea Exposé is delivering niche stories to a global audience – with Mediati's help. (Photo: Elaine Ly)
Korea Exposé is delivering niche stories to a global audience – with Mediati's help. (Photo: Elaine Ly)

An evolving landscape

Asia’s media startup scene has been slow to take off, and South Korea is no exception.

“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes deals, with big companies and advertisements going straight to the old traditional legacy media,” Park says. “There’s a set amount of advertisements and a huge chunk of the pie goes to them, it’s typical Korean readership behavior.”

Another barrier has been language: media startups publishing in Korean have a limited market, catering to a population of 51 million inside the country but failing to reach global international audiences.

Park believes the journalism landscape in South Korea needs to evolve in order to produce original news stories.

“Magazines are slowing dying. People in their 20s don’t read GQ and Esquire anymore,” he says.

And though he admits “every day is a struggle” to find funding, Park says the momentum behind Mediati’s chosen startups is growing, in part due to the proliferation of social: new media platforms have begun to level the playing field between legacy media companies and new media.

“Whether you are SBS [Seoul Broadcasting System] or Dotface, you get likes based on your content, not the airwaves you chartered.”

Elaine Ly is a broadcast journalist based in Seoul. She formerly worked for CNN International's flagship global affairs program Amanpour. Follow Elaine Ly on Twitter.

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