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Digital Media Mecca
Friday, September 5, 2014
Situated near Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee, Innovation Valley has become an epicenter for technology and research. It’s this marriage of constantly evolving technology and cutting-edge research that makes the region an ideal place to create and design digital products.
From television production and creative digital marketing tools to innovative apps and multimedia platforms, the Knoxville area has a vibrant community of digital media companies. It also offers a great environment for media-focused entrepreneurs and students to grow and thrive.
Recognizing the increasing importance of digital media on the region’s economy, Innovation Valley has included creative media services as one of its target industries in its strategic plan, Blueprint 2.0. In the plan, Innovation Valley targets five recruitment clusters that are suited to take maximum advantage of the area's strengths and assets. The creative media services cluster focuses on video production, programming for broadcast and cable networks, digital media production, pre-productions, post-production, editing, imaging, graphics, animation, distribution, and replication.
While Knoxville might not be the first place one thinks of as a video production hub, the city has been ranked the third largest market in the nation behind New York and Los Angeles.
“One reason media companies choose to locate in Knoxville is because of the area’s technological assets, central location, and the low cost of living,” said Doug Lawyer, vice president of economic development for the Knoxville Chamber. “Companies won’t see all of those benefits in Los Angeles or New York.”
Scripps Networks Interactive, RIVR Media, and Jewelry Television are a few of the prominent television production companies that call Knoxville home. Scripps Networks — which includes HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, and Great American Country — and Jewelry Television together garner 180 million viewers worldwide. Production companies like RIVR Media and Jupiter Entertainment produce programming for national networks like A&E, ESPN, and Discovery Channel.
But the region’s creative arena extends beyond television. The Knoxville area also provides a perfect setting for digital marketing and other creative technology services.
Pyxl is one of the area’s premier digital marketing firms. The company specializes in business market strategy, creative brand development, technology, digital marketing communication, and inbound marketing.
“Pyxl is unique because we start with immersing ourselves in our clients’ business models and understanding what drives their growth,” CEO Brian Winter said. “Many digital marketing companies are focused on delivering a single project or creating a particular marketing asset. However, we always make sure we know how our clients’ investment in our services will have an impact on clients’ top-line growth. That puts us in a unique place where we are fusing technology, creativity and business acumen together to deliver digital marketing results — the core of our company’s mission statement.”
Winter said the company opened its first office in Knoxville because of the resources the area has to offer.
“Knoxville has always been an intersection of innovation and technology with three main pillars crucial for digital marketing: technology, design, and research,” Winter said. “Within Knoxville, technology has been celebrated and supported by organizations like Tech 20/20 and implemented by places like Oak Ridge National Laboratory. We’ve also seen innovative design and production brought to the area by Scripps and UT’s research facilities.”
He added, “There are few places where you have the innovation we have here in Knoxville combined with such a great community and a wonderful place to live and work.”
While still based in Knoxville, Pyxl now has additional offices in Boulder, Co., and Phoenix, and works on projects for companies like Pilot Flying J and Provision Healthcare.
Gigmark Interactive Media is another innovative local company that came onto the scene in 2007 with a unique piece of technology — the Interactive Flash Drive. The brainchild of Parker Frost, the product provides customers with an interactive sales and marketing tool. Unlike an ordinary USB drive that has to be manually updated by the user, Gigmark’s IFD automatically updates itself and provides important insights into the behavior of the user. GM, Ford, Sony, the Marines, and Ally Bank are just a few of the companies that have used the IFD technology.
Following the success of the IFD, Gigmark has created a new product, Yakity App. This desktop application is a more affordable, timely option for businesses — specifically non-profit — that want to use Gigmark’s analytic technology.
“While Gigmark has been successful, we were passing up business every day from customers who did not have the budget or had time constraints of when they needed the product,” Frost said. “So we took all our experience and developed a more standardized approach that could be made in a matter of hours and days, instead of months and months. It also created a software as a service business for us.”
Though YakityApp is still relatively new, Frost said they have about 45 customers currently using the platform. “Locally, we have customers like MVP, Helen Ross McNabb, Back Porch Vistas (BPV Financial), and Aqua-Chem.”
Creating the Future
Innovation Valley is not only a great setting for established creative service businesses, but also a great place for nurturing the next generation of creative minds.
Pellissippi State Community College’s Bagwell Center for Media and Arts is dedicated to preparing students for multimedia careers. The 29,370-square-foot building houses Pellissippi State’s media technologies program and art program. The media technologies program offers courses in four concentrations: communication graphics technology, photography, video production technology, and Web technology. Media technologies students graduate with an Associate of Applied Science degree.
“A unique feature of this program is its cross-disciplinary environment that reflects what is occurring in industry,” said Ella Ruggles, program coordinator for video production technology. “The art program offers a comprehensive range of studio courses in painting, drawing, design, printmaking, ceramics, and sculpture that are designed to transfer to four-year institutions.”
Ruggles said the media technologies courses offer hands-on instruction using production equipment, computers, software applications, and facilities that meet or beat industry standards.
The Bagwell Center’s facilities include a large high-definition video production studio with a green screen wall, a professionally equipped photography studio that uses the latest in digital imaging and lighting equipment, numerous video editing suites, state-of-the-art computer labs for each of the concentrations, art studios, a sound recording studio, and an art gallery.
For creative entrepreneurs, the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center recently introduced MediaWorks, the center’s inaugural digital media accelerator.
MediaWorks is a selective, highly immersive instructional and mentor-driven program for startups in the digital media sector, which includes digital video, augmented reality, digital signage, digital audio, or digital art. Nine startups were chosen for the program.
Jonathan Sexton, KEC’s entrepreneur in residence, said MediaWorks aims to showcase a thriving digital media startup community in East Tennessee. The program, he said, represents a key element in KEC’s ongoing drive to highlight the region’s leadership in technology, digital media, and media content creation.
“Accelerators work best when they can tap into an existing knowledge base in a thriving community,” Sexton said. “In Knoxville, we have a thriving digital media industry that reaches worldwide. Companies like Scripps Networks, Regal Cinemas, and AC Entertainment can provide unprecedented sector knowledge that makes Knoxville an ideal spot to startup a digital media company.”
On Aug. 5, the MediaWorks entrepreneurs were put to the test at Demo Day. The event was the culmination of the 12-week program, and gave each startup the chance to pitch its idea to a sold-out crowd, which included potential investors.
“Demo Day not only gave the community insight into Knoxville’s digital startup community, but it also gave local businesses the chance to get involved with these new companies in meaningful ways, whether that be by becoming customers, strategic partners, or investors,” Sexton said.