Cole Media: Helping M&E Companies Launch, Invest, and Improve New Businesses

After many years working with Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., and mobile video start-up PacketVideo, Lauren Cole began getting calls from groups looking to launch new international and U.S. cable networks and technology companies: could she help create business plans for them and get the businesses off the ground?

Her experience in business strategy and operations led to the 2002 launch of Cole Media, a boutique consulting firm that’s helped more than 160 companies — from media giants to small start-ups —tackle everything from new business plans, to international expansion, to launching new products.

Cole, president of Cole Media, spoke with the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) about her start in the media and entertainment consulting business, what it takes to help roll out strategies and unveil investment requirements for new lines of business today, and why the commercialization of blockchain, 5G, and ATSC 3.0 could be game-changers for the industry.

MESA: How did Cole Media come about, what was the impetus for the company, what gap(s) in the M&E consulting market has it sought to fill?

Cole: I launched Cole Media in 2002 after spending many years working internally with M&E companies. After I left PacketVideo I immediately started to get consulting requests to look into whether Game Show Network could launch internationally in selected markets; from Radio One who was looking at launching the African American-targeted channel that became TV One; and from a facial recognition technology company. They all wanted me to figure out the investment requirements for these new businesses, to put together a pitch-deck for their boards, investors, or distribution partners, and eventually to help get the businesses off the ground.

I had a strategy background (Bain and Company, Warner Bros. Strategic Planning) as well as an operational background, and I realized quickly that there was a need for a group whose consultants had hands-on experience as media company executives and who were not just MBAs and consultants.

Entertainment is a unique industry that is constantly changing, and understanding the dynamics, history, and quirks is critical to successful implementations. Everyone on Cole Media’s team has worked internally at studios in management roles, yet brings a “roll up your sleeves” mentality to our project work.

MESA: What is a typical Cole Media assignment? When do clients call you?

Cole: Cole Media has had 160 clients to date and our projects often involve creating business strategies, plans, or financial projections for media-related businesses. We also get calls to do due diligence on potential investments as well as expert witness work. I’ve spent my career figuring the roll-out strategies and investment requirements for new lines of business.

We never say “Well, if I just get 1% of the market, my revenue will be … .” We’re used to working in-house and living with our recommendations and projected investment requirements. No one wants to tell their management that a business will cost $20 million and have it cost $40 million. We look realistically at who the customers are, what the business terms are in the market, where content will come from and what it will cost. If we don’t know the answers the team members have deep rolodexes and can pick up the phone and talk directly to key executives, vendors, and managers working in the area to get the latest information.

Digital businesses in particular are constantly changing, and we can’t use last year’s estimates to come up with where the market is today.

Clients usually call us when they are starting to figure out a new business or when they are considering expanding into a new area and don’t have the internal resources to handle it. Sometimes they just want an outside independent perspective. They could be looking for materials they can send to their board, management, or for investors.

MESA: What types of media businesses have you worked with?

Cole: When I first set up the company many clients wanted to launch cable networks, but our work is much broader now, and it has run the gamut of media. Today a lot of clients are looking at launching OTT services (SVOD, AVOD, TVOD or a combination) but we’ve also looked at vMPVDs, TV and film production companies (both unscripted and scripted), VR exhibition and VR/AR production, content distribution, theatrical exhibition, dynamic ad insertion, digital distribution, post production, mobile broadcast, Broadway theater, news, clip licensing and stock footage, and the market for data.

Our clients range from media giants to start-ups. Team members have a strong international background, so a lot of our projects are global or international. We also provide expert witness services.

The Cole Media website, colemediala.com, has a lot more information about our projects and clients.

MESA: What’s next for Cole Media?

Cole: We’ve always worked at the forefront of looking new technologies and how they impact the media business. Most importantly, our focus is on possible revenue models and how quickly new lines of business can become commercial. We are currently keeping an eye on things like the commercialization of blockchain, 5G, and ATSC 3.0 but the best part of the work is getting a call about a new business that doesn’t exist yet that we need to think through.