20 Year Media’s acquisition strategy has lessons for other startups

20 year media

If you filmed a dramatic corporate acquisition for the big screen, you’d probably have the big company in New York buying out the small Vancouver firm – because that’s just how the story plays out most of the time. Vancouver-based Twenty Year Media Inc. apparently didn’t like that script: their acquisition in January of Emerging Pictures, a digital exhibition company, offers a fresh take that will be of interest to entrepreneurs in a city near you.

“Right now, Hollywood has a big hammer approach to movies. We come at it from the other side.”

“Ninety-eight percent of the time, the acquisition goes in the other direction, so it’s an odd scenario,” says Twenty Year Media Executive VP Ryan Nadel. “But for us, making this move now made sense. Emerging Pictures has been a real pioneer on the digital distribution side of things. That was a big missing piece for helping us reach our goal of helping theatres give audiences the content that they want to see.”

The company aims to use data analytics to allow content programming with a much better understanding of what consumers want to see – in a movie theatre, on your TV, or playing on your smartphone or tablet. “Right now, Hollywood has a big hammer approach to just put movies in every theatre they can, spend lots of money on marketing and hope you go see it,” Nadel says. “We come at it from the other side: program great-quality cinema based on our data and be more profitable.” Twenty Year Media will continue to operate its technology infrastructure in Vancouver. Meanwhile, Emerging Pictures will perform its sales and marketing functions out of New York.

20 year media

One of the biggest challenges in getting the deal to work was aligning people on either end who had different visions, Nadel says. “That’s perhaps where we had an advantage in not already operating a huge corporate machine. We had more patience for the process than other companies might have had and we were able to be flexible in how we structured the deal, through an iterative process. Effectively, we applied development methodology to the process of making business decisions – and that turned out to be very useful here.”

Even as they continue to grow, that flexibility will be key with future partners. “In startup culture, a lot of companies say they’re going to disrupt everything. But the truth is that sometimes it’s important to work within the existing system to get somewhere. Movie theatres are over 150 years old and you have to work with the traditions and connections that are attached to that. At the same time, our approach lets our partners be more dynamic, connecting the theatre and the audience in a new way.”

Jonathon Narvey

Jonathon Narvey

Jonathon Narvey is a content marketing strategist and BetaKit Senior Editor. Living and working in the heart of downtown Vancouver, he's watched this city's tech hub grow and start to compete on a world-class level. He has learned most of what he knows about tech startups and entrepreneurial spirit by interviewing some of the most innovative thought leaders here and abroad. He's always up for learning something new about the startups, leaders and technologies that are changing our world.