“People don’t necessarily want more choice – what they want is curation,” argues Simon Walker, the founder of Maidthorn, which describes itself as the “creative industries incubator for next generation digital media brands”. Digital connectivity has given people access to an almost limitless amount of material on any given subject, but most of us have specific interests and passions we want indulging, Walker says. “What if we could build content-led brands that help people who are passionate about those areas to build their best lives?”
That’s the thinking behind Maidthorn, which has already launched two such brands, focused on “passion niches”. CountryLine serves a global audience with a love for country music, while Marquee TV is dedicated to the performing arts. A third venture focused on science and technology – with a working name of “Scintch” – is due for launch in the new year.
For Walker, these ventures are the natural culmination of a working lifetime spent in digital entertainment of one sort or another. “My so-called career has really had three stages,” he reflects. Walker started out as a strategy consultant working out of London, New York and Chicago – “I was the nerd in the office with a Netscape web browser in the early 1990s, so I became the digital guy”, he explains.
That saw him end up at the BBC, where he worked as the corporation’s first head of on-demand media – paving the way for the launch of the hugely successful iPlayer – followed by stints in digital roles at music group EMI and the media company Emap. “Then I had a mini mid-life crisis,” he recalls. “I’d been doing more or less the same thing for 20 years, I’d turned 40, and just had my first child – I’d always wanted to do my own thing.”
So began the third act. At Emap, Walker had observed the power of the communities centred around some of the media company’s most specialist magazines, where a passionate audience was looking for more content and opportunities to actively engage. Traditional paper-based products could only do so much to indulge that audience, but in a digital world, it would be possible to build global brands around such passions, Walker reasoned.
The idea also fitted well with Walker’s big picture view of how the digital sector might evolve. “We thought the world would polarise, with a few very large companies fighting one another for domination – call it Silicon Valley versus Hollywood – while smaller niche players focused on particular areas; there wouldn’t be much room for those caught in the middle.”
Maidthorn founder Simon Walker
Oz Koca Photography
At Maidthorn, which Walker founded in 2008, the team has watched as that analysis has proved accurate. While the likes of Netflix and Amazon are taking on the entertainment giants of old, Maidthorn is focusing on those niches.
Marquee TV is a subscription service enabling people to stream dance, opera, theatre and music online – the kind of arts that the large streaming giants are less likely to focus on, but for which there is a huge global audience. CountryLine, meanwhile, offers all things country music, with content ranging from music videos to full-blown films. Both services focus on audience engagement as well as simply serving up entertainment – Walker wants subscribers to feel they are active members of their areas of passion, not passive consumers. CountryLine was launched, points out Walker, with investment from Sir Elton John. “He told us country music was his first love, because he loved the melodies, but also because he loved the storytelling.”
So far so good, but given that there are a near-infinite number of potential niches to focus on out there, how does Maidthorn decide where to focus?
New ventures have to meet five criteria, Walker explains. There must be a genuinely global audience and interest in the niche, that audience has to be underserved, and it has to be addressable (that is, possible to actually reach); there needs to be content – and rights to that content – available, and there needs to be a vision of how it might be possible to go beyond just content.
This last point is crucial, Walker adds. “This is the big trend we are going to see in the streaming world over the next five years,” he argues. “On Marquee TV, for example, you’ll be able to buy tickets to physical concerts and performances, interact with performers and other audience members, join reward schemes and so on.”
In marketing speak, this is building industry verticals – platforms of products and services built around a core offer. Walker describes it as a 360-degree brand. But the jargon aside, the idea is to create a single destination to which anyone with a particular passion will flock; if you can do that, there is an opportunity to monetise the audience in all sorts of different ways.
Walker is quick to point out that he’s an entrepreneur rather than a domain expert in country music, the performing arts of science and technology. “The trick is to find the right partner in each of these verticals,” he says. “Someone who has total credibility in the space.”
Maidthorn is then in a position to provide business support, strategic advice and access to investors – the conventional incubator approach, in other words, with a specific focus on a certain type of business.
Walker is uniquely well-placed to drive that focus, having pioneered the digitalisation of the entertainment industry for much of the past three decades. “Those first two parts of my career were really Maidthorn’s origin story,” he reflects.
Source by www.forbes.com