Media companies—including The New York Times Company, Omaha Productions, and Group Black—are finding innovative ways to deliver for viewers and content creators alike.
Explore the full 2023 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 540 organizations that are reshaping industries and culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact across 54 categories, including advertising, beauty, design, and more.
In 2023, the way we consume media continued to evolve at breakneck speed. Entertainment and information that’s immediate, engaging, and interactive is no longer seen as a luxury, but a necessity. The 10 most innovative companies in media this year are meeting audiences’ rapidly evolving expectations in endlessly creative and innovative ways, and in the process are upending the way we think about how we experience everything from Monday Night Football to comics. Football legend Peyton Manning’s Omaha Productions, for example, has completely reinvented the act of watching a football game, replacing tie-and-blazer-wearing commentators with an off-the-cuff, uncensored show that feels more like a zany Zoom meeting than a highly produced sports program. And Webtoon brings the the pleasure of comics to your iPhone, letting you conjure the Sunday morning feeling of flipping through ink-stained newspaper pages, but with the ability to scroll vertically.
Media companies are also coming up with new ways to reward creators, offering them new digital revenue streams. Kittch, a kind of Twitch for culinary enthusiasts, allows folks from chef Marcus Samuelsson to up-and-coming restaurateurs to connect directly with their fans, receive online tips, and participate in advertising rev-share deals. Webtoon, meanwhile, lets creators retain ownership of their IP to monetize their work—some Webtoon series have evolved into Netflix shows.
Other media companies (including Webtoon) are bringing more diverse creators to their platforms, reflecting the changes in social and racial awareness over the past few years. Group Black puts this mission at the forefront. The media collective and accelerator works with advertising agencies to shift their spending toward Black-owned media outlets.
On this year’s most innovative companies in media list are also traditional media companies that are completely reinventing their brands in imaginative, even addictive ways. The New York Times Company, for one, is much more than a staid, prestigious source of news: It’s become a way of life that includes hammering one’s brain over Wordle; streaming cooking videos to figure out what to make for dinner; and listening to podcasts on the way to work. The company has managed to get people to pay for these experiences, proving the value of its creators’ work. In so many ways, the companies on this list have come up with game-changing practices to marry business with entertainment and creativity in a manner that benefits the consumer most of all.
For turning mobile comic books into an IP engine
Webtoon has made reading comics on a mobile phone as pleasurable as flipping through an actual comic book—thanks to the company’s vertical-scroll capability. The company, which started in Korea in 2004 but is now headquartered in Los Angeles, has turned webcomics into the latest Korean pop-culture fad to become a global cross-media phenomenon, taking in $856 million in 2022. More than two dozen Webtoons have been made into TV series. All of Us Are Dead, a coming-of-age tale about a group of friends dealing with everything from crushes to zombies, became one of Netflix’s three most-watched non-English language TV series of 2022, just behind Squid Game and Extraordinary Attorney Woo (which Webtoon adapted into a webcomic). In December 2022, Netflix optioned yet another Webtoon, called Doona!, revealing at the time that 60% of global Netflix subscribers in 2022 watched what it calls K-Content, much of it having originating as a Webtoon. Webtoon’s diverse roster of comic artists are able to control their own IP on the platform, meaning they share in the upside. Webtoon started 2022 with another high-profile bit of Korean culture: a collaboration with pop group BTS. January 2022’s webcomic 7Fates: Chakho, which the band members appeared in, racked up more than 15 million views in its first two days.
Read more about Webtoon, honored as No. 8 on Fast Company’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2023.
2. THE NEW YORK TIMES COMPANY
For becoming a way of life
More so than any other mainstream news organization, The New York Times Company has succeeded in transitioning into a lifestyle brand by building up categories like cooking, games, and sports through savvy bundling and acquisitions. Wordle, the daily word puzzle that the company acquired in January 2022, became such a phenomenon that it was the most-searched word of the year on Google. Sports coverage has not historically been a strong suit of the Times, so it acquired the subscription sports media brand The Athletic (also in January), and over the course of 2022 started to integrate it into the parent company, adding it to some of its own subscription bundles and its advertising platform. The company continues to find ways to leverage its strengths across its divisions, such as when it enlisted its tech reporters to help some of its on-camera cooking talent make Thanksgiving dinner with the help of generative AI. The New York Times is profitable, growing double-digits, and now has more than 2 million digital-only bundle and multiproduct subscribers. The company reached its goal of 10 million total subscriptions faster than planned; its goal is now 15 million subscribers by 2027. For 2022, the New York Times Company generated $2.3 billion in revenue, up 11.3%, and $202 million in operating profit.
3. GROUP BLACK
For working to diversify the face of media
Group Black, a media collective and accelerator that launched in June 2021, is focused on growing Black-owned businesses and getting marketers and advertisers to shift more ad spending to Black-owned media outlets. In August 2022, the collective, which counts more than 200 Black-owned brands in its network—including Essence, Afropunk, and Reach TV—partnered with such media companies as Ziff-Davis and Vice on Uplift, a new program that matches Black creator content with those brands. Five percent of every advertising dollar spent though Uplift was added to Group Black’s fund supporting the development of Black creators.
4. OMAHA PRODUCTIONS
For reimagining how viewers experience live sporting events
Founded in 2020 by retired NFL player Peyton Manning, Omaha Productions has revamped the way live sporting broadcasts are viewed. The company’s highly successful and influential “ManningCast” on ESPN2 and ESPN+ features Manning and his brother Eli providing live commentary as an alternative experience to ESPN’s Monday Night Football series. Their conversational approach and low-tech production (it has been described as part Zoom, part hanging out in a bar) mimics the way fans talk while watching games with family and friends, making the broadcast a cultural sensation during its 2021 inaugural season. The show’s 2022 debut drew 1.5 million viewers, an 86% increase from its premiere a year earlier. The broadcast has attracted a litany of high-profile celebrity drop-ins from inside and outside the sports world, from popular YouTuber Pat McAfee to former President Barack Obama. The format demonstrates how a network or streamers can squeeze profits from increasingly expensive sports rights, and how leagues can entice younger fans (and other cord-cutters) to watch games. The format has since been copied by Amazon, the NBA, and Omaha itself, which is producing an alternative broadcast for UFC events.
5. MORNING BREW
For giving digital influencers creative ways to grow revenue
Morning Brew, the newsletter turned media company that brings daily news stories to an audience of more than 6 million in the most digestible way possible, turned to creators to grow its imprint in 2022. Rather than just contracting with influencers who seemed aligned with its content, the company made them full-time employees and supported them with Morning Brew’s infrastructure while building their distinct brands. Emma Chieppor, for example, turned her love for teaching people Excel into Excel Dictionary in March 2022; in addition to growing her social presence, she’s been able to create products to sell on Morning Brew’s e-commerce site and share in the upside. Her mousepads with some of her spreadsheet tips generated $100,000 in sales in just a few months, and she launched her first online course in December. Morning Brew’s effort has signaled a new approach both to building brand extensions and working with creators, and it’s helped the company continue its growth trajectory. The company’s reported 2021 revenue was $50 million, and, despite a round of layoffs in November, it expected 66% year-over-year growth for 2022, which would put it over $80 million.
For being the Twitch for chefs
Kittch, a food and cooking streaming video platform that officially debuted in March 2022, gives chefs new revenue streams and allows them to grow their digital businesses through online cooking sessions, wine tastings, and documentary-style videos. Much like Twitch or OnlyFans—Kittch has saucily been compared with both services—Kittch allows foodies to connect with hundreds of chefs and food-world personalities, including a growing lineup of stars such as Ruth Reichl, Ludo Lefebvre, and Marcus Samuelsson. Viewers can tip creators, join a course, or buy merchandise. The streamer has also attracted such brands as Walmart to make content and market its online grocery-ordering service.
7. THE COOL DOWN
For adding a spoonful of sugar to sustainability-related content
Climate information is important (obviously), and many people want to do their part, but what sustainability content has always lacked is any sense of fun. In July 2022, one of the founders of the sports media brand Bleacher Report decided to change that, launching The Cool Down to take the pressing issue of climate change and build a media brand that combines news and recommendations for climate-friendly products with a bias for consumer action. The website-newsletter-social video creator does all this with a pop sensibility (“Is Meghan Markle the queen of sustainable fashion?”) and the kind of Instagram and TikTok life hack videos that can go viral (“Keep your lettuce fresh for an entire month!”). The Cool Down has already built a massive catalog of the world’s most eco-friendly goods and services ranked by environmental benefits, and its proprietary analytics are built to surface insights about what prompts consumer action in the sustainability space.
8. EPIC GARDENING
For building an empire around a niche interest
Epic Gardening began in 2013 as a blog for gardening enthusiasts. In January 2022, it began sprouting into a full-fledged direct-to-consumer content and commerce platform. On Epic, newbie and experienced green thumbs alike can download podcasts; stream videos about homesteading, micro greens, and how to irrigate your garden with ancient tech; and buy “the Cadillac of garden beds” for $200. The company, which generated $7.5 million in 2021, is tapping into a niche market where consumers spend an estimated $19 billion annually. The media and tech investment firm TCG invested $17.5 million at the beginning of 2022—and TCG knows how to grow a media niche. Previous TCG hits include Barstool Sports, Food52, Hodinkee, and MeatEater.
9. CAMPSIDE MEDIA
For helping journalists monetize their audio stories in Hollywood
Founded by three veteran magazine journalists and a Hollywood screenwriter, Campside Media is a podcast production company with a business model built on licensing original podcasts to Hollywood and then sharing in the profits of any movies or TV shows that get made. It has licensed seven podcasts for adaptation since its 2019 founding, including Hooked, about an opioid addict turned serial bank robber, which is being developed at Apple TV+, and The Bering, which was acquired by Elisabeth Murdoch’s company, Sister. In 2022, Campside was developing 14 new podcasts, most of which were presold to distributors. Campside has also expanded globally: Its first foreign-language series, Altamira, hit number one on the Apple and Spotify charts in Brazil. Shows are also underway in Japan, Spain, and the U.K. In October 2022, it announced that it had partnered with Meadowlark Media (launched by former ESPN President John Skipper and radio personality Dan Le Batard) for a multi-platform anthology series called “Sports Explain the World” that will debut in early 2023.
10. AMERICAN JOURNALISM PROJECT
For building a future for local news
The American Journalism Project is a venture philanthropy that invests in and builds digital nonprofit newsrooms that are governed by, sustained by, and look like the public they serve. The AJP makes grants to nonprofit news organizations, partners with communities to launch new local news organizations, and coaches leaders as they grow and sustain their newsrooms. So far, the AJP, which launched in 2019, has put $37 million behind 32 local news organizations, including The Beacon (Kansas and Missouri), The City (New York City), and El Paso Matters. It closed its first fund in December of 2021 and just started raising for a second fund with the goal of hitting $60 million by 2024. In July 2022, the AJP announced that it would be issuing $3.15 million in new support for three nonprofit news organizations: Verite, a sister newsroom of Mississippi Today, which launched last fall in New Orleans; ICT (formerly Indian Country Today), which covers Indigenous communities across the country; and New York City–based The City. Data from the American Journalism Project’s 2022 Impact Report shows that its grantees grow by an average of 67% within the first year of receiving the funding.
This article first appeared https://www.fastcompany.com
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