The 10 most innovative companies in media of 2021

Because the media business was rocked by the pandemic in 2020, companies have been pressured to shortly give you artistic methods to make and distribute content material, in addition to maintain audiences united throughout a socially divisive time. These companies led the best way on these fronts and extra.

1. SpringHill Firm

For marrying leisure with social justice via Hollywood content material

LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s advertising and leisure firm has an unapologetic agenda: to make and distribute content material that can give a voice to creators and customers who’ve been pandered to, ignored, or underserved. Its dedication to this group hasn’t wavered as the corporate considerably scaled right into a content material creation powerhouse and raised $100 million in 2020. It was a producer of the Netflix restricted collection Self-Made, starring Octavia Spencer as Madam C.J. Walker, the Black creator of an early-Twentieth-century magnificence empire; and the documentary collection The Playbook about legendary coaches, additionally on Netflix. SpringHill Company additionally backed James’ Greater than a Vote initiative to spice up voter turnout, and created animated shorts and different digital media to coach and encourage folks to become involved in the Presidential election. Extra content material is on the best way because of a blizzard of new offers with Amazon, Disney, Common, CNN, Sirius, and extra.

2. NBCUniversal

For proactively transferring its conventional companies into the longer term

In 2020, NBCUniversal made aggressive strikes towards streaming as a theatrical distribution platform, taking up movie show large AMC to hammer out a deal in which Common motion pictures are launched on streaming platforms simply 17 days after they arrive out in theaters (versus the standard 90 days). An identical deal was reached with Cinemark, one other important theater chain. As theaters began shutting down in the midst of COVID-19, NBCU moved main instances like Trolls: Worldwide and Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island to premium video-on-demand (PVOD) platforms, arising with new methods to compensate stars like Justin Timberlake. The yr additionally noticed the savvy launch of Peacock, NBCU’s free, ad-supported streaming service that in simply 5 months racked up 26 million sign-ups, proving {that a} deep library of acquainted content material was simply what audiences have been craving throughout an extremely turbulent yr. That was earlier than The Workplace moved from Netflix to Peacock in January. As NBCU chairman Jeff Shell put it, Peacock is “the alternative of Quibi.”

[Illustration: Jacob Pinson]

3. Substack

For giving writers a worthwhile refuge from the shipwreck of outdated and new media

As the standard media business continues to crumble, publication and podcasting platform Substack has exploded because the de facto vacation spot for journalists to create their very own companies, giving them entry not simply to artistic expression however income streams. Each extra versatile and proactive than its rivals, Substack helps writers construct up audiences via a mentorship program, permits them to workforce up and create a bundle, and lately launched a function that helps them determine folks they observe on Twitter who’ve a Substack publication. Options like these have helped the corporate entice an avalanche of prime expertise, together with Anne Helen Peterson from BuzzFeed, Jemima Kiss from The Guardian, and writer Glenn Greenwald, who in some circumstances earn six-figure salaries. As COVID-19 wreaked but extra havoc on ad-supported media channels, Substack’s subscription numbers spiked as much as 250,000 paid subscribers.

4. Westbrook

For conserving it actual in 2020

When Crimson Desk Speak—Jada Pinkett Smith and household’s Fb Watch collection—had Olivia Jade on to debate her involvement in the Varsity Blues scandal final December, the present opened with a dialogue about race and the optics surrounding a white, privileged younger lady bringing her redemption story to 3 Black ladies. The dialogue was basic Crimson Desk Speak, which has develop into one of the most related media platforms for frank discuss throughout a yr seized by racial unrest and ever-more divisive partisanship. The numbers bear this out: The Emmy-nominated present is Fb Watch’s most profitable authentic program with over 1 billion views, and in 2020 it launched a spin-off collection hosted by Gloria Estefan. The franchise is only one prong of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s multimedia firm, Westbrook, that encompasses movie, TV, and digital initiatives centered on selling range. The initiatives are geared to assembly viewers the place they really watch, and present how the couple aren’t simply celebrities dabbling in content material creation however arising with enjoyable and inventive experiments to interact their followers. When COVID-19 hit, Westbrook created a Snapchat collection Will From Residence, shot fully at Smith’s home. Different initiatives embrace the upcoming Warner Bros. movie King Richard, starring Smith as Richard Williams, Venus and Serena’s father, who coached his daughters into tennis phenoms on public courts in Compton, California; and the Netflix collection Cobra Kai.

5. Blumhouse

For bringing but extra artistic effectivity to Hollywood

Producer Jason Blum’s mannequin of making cost-effective, horror movies and TV exhibits turned much more related in 2020 because the leisure business was squeezed arduous by the pandemic, and costly, large-scale productions turned dangerous from each a well being and monetary perspective. In October, the corporate launched Welcome to the Blumhouse, an anthology collection of eight thriller movies on Amazon Prime. The venture was not solely well timed, giving audiences strapped to their couches extra content material to binge, however one other instance of (*10*)‘s trademark effectivity, seeing as making the movies as a package deal lower down considerably on manufacturing and advertising prices. Blumhouse employed underrepresented filmmakers who have been of African, Indian, and Filipino descent to make the movies, each to assist appropriate Hollywood’s range downside and to raised serve Blumhouse’s viewers, half of whom are from Black or from ethnic minority backgrounds.

6. Cameo

For creating a personalised method for influencers and followers to attach

Cameo, the digital platform that permits customers to buy brief, customized “shout out” movies from celebrities like Snoop Dogg (for $1,200), Mia Hamm ($125), and even Roseanne Barr ($200), grew quickly in 2020 as influencers all of a sudden discovered themselves caught at residence, unable to carry out dwell or take part in sporting occasions. This created a brand new, sizable gig financial system: Cameo, which takes a 25% lower of stars’ charges, introduced in greater than $100 million in bookings in 2020. The firm has formulated a brand new spin on the connection between celebrities and followers, one that’s much more intimate than a Fb submit or Instagram story, in addition to a intelligent advertising instrument for media companies. The website breaks down influencers by classes, reminiscent of Netflix and The Workplace (Toby and Kevin are on!). The truth is, actor Brian Baumgartner, who performed the bumbling character Kevin Malone, was Cameo’s prime earner in 2020, making greater than $1 million.

7. Wayfarer Studios

For making social justice a precedence at each stage of content material creation

Created by Paylocity founder Steve Sarowitz and Jane the Virgin star Justin Baldoni, Wayfarer Studios is dedicated to producing impactful, message-driven content material. This implies initiatives like Clouds, a movie primarily based on the true story of Zach Sobiech, a teen who was identified with a uncommon type of bone most cancers, which debuted on Disney Plus; in addition to the upcoming adaptation of Colleen Hoover’s best-selling novel It Ends With Us, about an abusive relationship. The firm applies the identical social justice lens to how content material will get made, and has been hiring executives, creators, and behind-the-scenes filmmakers who replicate the various world we dwell in. It has additionally prolonged alternatives to those that don’t sometimes have them. When COVID-19 hit, Wayfarer created the Six Toes Aside competitors, in which aspiring filmmakers have been chosen and given $50,000 every to make their first film at residence. “We have now a imaginative and prescient to disrupt for good,” says Baldoni.

8. Tastemade

For placing an egg on the pandemic

“Put an egg on it” turned a mantra on the Tastemade collection Wrestle Meals in 2020, in addition to a wildly well-liked episode in which host Frankie Celenza demonstrated to the present’s 1 million cross-platform viewers methods to flip nearly any meals right into a scrumptious, budget-friendly meal with the mere crack of an egg. The present epitomized how Tastemade, the digital cooking community for millennials, turned COVID-19 to its benefit, even though its check kitchens and units have been pressured to close down and cooks like Celenza have been cooking and filming out of their residence kitchens. In 2020, Tastemade additionally launched Tastemade India (its Diwali collection on Snap attracted 750,000 viewers), in addition to Tastemade en Espanol, its first-ever Spanish language streaming channel for TV. With extra folks caught at residence in search of artistic methods to method mealtime, the community grew the quantity of households that it reaches globally from 80 million to 130 million yr over yr.

9. FOS

For conserving sports activities followers from pulling out their hair in 2020

Sports activities followers disadvantaged of dwell occasions throughout the pandemic discovered comfort in FOS (previously Entrance Workplace Sports activities), a publication startup dedicated to serving to folks working in—and simply in—the $600 billion-plus sports activities biz perceive what’s occurring. Even with out dwell sports activities for awhile, the enterprise by no means stopped and FOS expanded in new and inventive methods in order to satiate its homebound viewers. The firm aggressively ramped up its portfolio with a concentrate on talent-led manufacturers geared to breed extra group and engagement. For instance, sportswriter Anthony Puccio’s NBA day by day publication, The Affiliation, debuted in December, including to a portfolio that covers faculty sports activities and athletes and sports activities tradition. A betting and fantasy sports activities publication is anticipated to launch earlier than the top of the primary quarter of 2021. This 360 method to catering to audiences helped FOS’s income develop 50% yr over yr in 2020. Subscriber numbers, in the meantime, skyrocketed 867%. The firm expects to hit 500,000 by midyear.

10. Her Campus Media

For conserving undergraduates linked throughout the pandemic

As the faculty expertise was upended because of COVID-19, Her Campus Media stepped as much as maintain feminine undergraduate communities linked via digital occasions, reminiscent of I’m Nonetheless Graduating, which featured Class of 2020 pupil audio system and performers alongside celebrities like Eva Longoria and Andrew Yang. The livestreamed occasion drew greater than 1 million folks. The media and advertising firm, which has a presence on over 1,500 faculty campuses and is totally feminine operated and owned, additionally labored to assist college students navigate their post-college lives by introducing Era Employed, a digital recruiting course of that matches college students with internships and entry-level jobs. The firm gives extra networking and résumé-building alternatives for college students via an umbrella of area of interest digital communities dedicated to areas like style (School Fashionista) and meals (Spoon College).