WSJ’s ‘Startup of the Year’ Fails to Start

/ Jul 16, 2013


We ranked it:


After sorting through the mismatched puzzle pieces of The Wall Street Journal’s new transmedia reality series, “Startup of the Year,” I had to triple-check my often-shaky memory to verify News Corporation was truly still owner of the business rag dubbed “the daily diary of the American dream.” It is almost blasphemous to link this stale effort to the folks who own FX (network of my beloved “Justified”), Fox, and other big-ticket network TV programming. This crazy-quilt of a rather boring contest among 24 startups lacks polish, continuity, and an overall sense of purpose.

Without a handy telestrator, we will virtually break down this show (and I use the term loosely) into its separate parts to learn where things went wrong. “Startup of the Year” takes 24 startups across a variety of areas (mostly tech) and puts them through a Kickstarter-lite process, minus the drama. On the dedicated website for this transmedia potpourri, you will find short clips from each startup. While each clearly presents the venture, they are little more than you would expect to find in a company’s self-promotional “About” section on their website. Each startup is assigned a mentor, and these days a mentor is anyone who has either: 1) written an “I’m a self-anointed guru” business book; 2) was anywhere near an IPO; and 3) has a consulting or marketing firm (generally operated out of a home office fashioned out of an underutilized Man Cave.)

Here’s where things get ugly. The video sessions between mentor and mentee (I may have made that up) take place via Skype or some other video chat vehicle. As my wife passed by my screen, watching these awkward exchanges, she aptly questioned why The Wall Street Journal could not spend the money to have these videos shot in a real studio with both parties in one location. The asynchronous nature of VTC conversations starkly undermines any of the educational benefit or human interaction intended for these skull sessions.

While the useless mentoring sessions torpedo this startup-o-rama, there are other elements that are equally bothersome. Do we really need yet another Richard Branson clip, shot in artsy shades of gray, sharing his gray matter on business ideals that apply to less than a microdot of our society? A few of these ego clips are good (I like Steve Case’s advice, but then again, I like Steve Case), but picking the gems out is rather tedious. There is also an ongoing list of tasks posed to the 24 contestants, such as doing a logo and tagline, but the video responses from those in competition are nowhere to be found on the website. Lastly, there is a popularity contest going on (The Rankings) where website visitors can vote on whether they would buy shares in one of the companies if it went public. It is puzzling that the voting actually takes place even before mentoring sessions are completed and tasks are performed. Yes, that was credibility you saw being deleted from this whale of a fail.

Transmedia is a relatively new form of communication that contains various content forms delivered across a wide variety of channels and screens. Transmedia experts (and I know plenty) will tell you each element (video, text, game, music) should be able to stand on its own; yet, when combined with others, the end product should generate an experience greater than the sum of its parts. Perhaps the digital media savants at the Wall Street Journal should stick to what they do best — or perhaps look across the News Corp org and hire Homer Simpson to lead their future video efforts.

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