This article was originally published on the website of the Global Alliance for Media Innovation (GAMI), WAN-IFRA’s network of stakeholders involved in research and innovation for the media. There are more media lab case studies available on GAMI Media Innovation Mapping project page.
In 2018, we spoke with Julien Kostrèche, who runs the Ouest Médialab in Nantes, France. We caught up with him this summer to ask how things have progressed since our last conversation..
WAN-IFRA: Julien, it’s good to talk to you again. How have things evolved since 2018?
Costreche: Thank you! Between 2012 and 2018, Ouest Médialab had as its field of action the West of France (Brittany and Pays de la Loire) and brought together regional media, communication organizations and content creators in general on the topics of digital change.
Since 2019 we have a national reach and we focus our actions on the development, innovation and transitions of local media, regardless of where they are.
We changed for two main reasons:
- Stay relevant in what we have to offer to the local media that do not have the same media or problems as the national ones.
- To find a balanced business model: the local authority “Région Pays de Loire”, which had supported us during the first years, was losing its financial support and it was difficult to find private partners if it only operated on a regional scale.
Are you where you expected?
Yes and no.
No, because when we launched Ouest Médialab in 2012, we thought that our laboratory would directly initiate or even carry out collaborative R&D projects among its members. But the media have not necessarily needed to launch collective projects or have preferred to go it alone, and they needed to experiment or follow short-term training.
Yes, because we have developed a qualitative following of the media sector, we are established and recognized for our training course and workshops in digital journalism and we managed to develop the exchange and mutual help between local media, universities and some agencies or new companies, especially during the Festival de l’info locale and our hackathons.
How collaborative are you with other media labs?
We mainly exchange with some French-speaking media labs or start-ups/media accelerators. I am thinking in particular of OFF7 (Sipa Ouest-France group), La compagnie Rotative (Centre-France group), the medialab of France Télévisions or even IMI in Switzerland.
What do you see for the future of the lab and others in general?
I think we need to carry out more studies/surveys to better understand the relationship between citizens and local news or to identify other good practices to innovate (either at editorial or business level). We must also pay more attention to new local players and content creators (bloggers, Youtubers, streamers, Instagrammers, Tiktokers, influencers, etc.) and their relationship with the audience.
How do you measure your success?
With the number of people who register in our newsletters (2500), the number of participants in the Festival de l’info locale each year (400) or following our trainings and workshops (1500 to 2000 per year). And beyond the volume of people, due to the satisfaction index of the people who participate in our actions.
And what about staff turnover? Did you gain more employees?
We are still 4 employees within our non-profit organization (two full-time and two part-time), and I look forward to creating a new position next year.
How do you finance the projects?
It depends on the projects. Our hackathons, for example, are funded by membership of the media and schools, and some subsidies from the city of Nantes. For the festival, part of the income comes from ticket sales, the other part from sponsors such as the Google News Initiative, Qiota or Riccobono Imprimeurs. And for training there are specific funds within companies. Globally, our self-financing reached 85% with contributions and services and subsidies 15% of our annual budget.
What do you wish you had done differently?
There are always things to improve, but in general, we have been able to maintain a good dynamic, always testing/launching new actions. I have no regrets about the projects we have developed, except perhaps with NMcube, our media incubator that we created in partnership with Audencia, the University of Nantes and another cluster. We trained 15 entrepreneurs in the media sector for a year and our program helped them break out of isolation, grow or pivot. But we could not find private partners in the regions to sustain the system and avoid relying only on subsidies from public authorities.
Do you keep in touch with the projects that have passed through your laboratories? If so, what is your relationship to them?
Relations are good. Some become members, others become occasional users of the lab, by participating in our workshops, hackathons or events. The link is rarely broken.
Has your process or approach to innovation changed?
Not precisely. We always rely on methods inspired by design thinking and user centered methods. He makes more frequent use of fictional design, particularly working with the Design Friction agency, of which he is a member. And necessarily, with the new national reach of the lab and the Covid period, we have digitized various events or workshops, and we have frequent online conferences, using tools like Miro or Jamboard.
What external pressures do you face, if any?
A number of actors are in crisis or difficulty in the media sector. It has always been this way since we started, but the recent rise in the cost of raw materials, particularly paper, aggravates the situation. On the side of public authorities, there is often a tendency to decrease subsidies, or only support projects at launch, and not the operation of the laboratory. Fortunately, Nantes Métropole has supported us from the beginning and they were always there when we needed them.
Are there new partners?
Yes. With the Festival de l’info venue in particular, we have developed around 30 new partnerships. Our main private partner today is the Google News Initiative.
What has been the impact of Covid on the lab (has it reduced the size/how events are handled/the amount of work done face to face)?
Thinking like many similar initiatives, partial unemployment at first and then progressive digitization of our services.
Greatest hits? The biggest failures? What did you learn from these?
Success: the Festival de l’info locale, which has established itself in less than 5 years as a benchmark B2B event for the sector.
Failure: I don’t want to seem shameless, but I don’t see big failures. Sometimes we have not been able to sustain some of our initiatives, like our media incubator. Other times, we finish a project too soon. For example, in 2016 we launched a training course on virtual reality and 360-degree video that never started. Despite the interest in the subject, we are probably too far ahead of the maturity of this technology and the real opportunities for media professionals. But as a lab, our role is also to be a bit out of step and it’s normal to crash from time to time. After all, it would be nice to have the luxury of crashing a bit more often 😉
Why do you think that innovation in a city-based cluster is the way to go?
I don’t know if this is the only way to go, but I am sure that this allows us to ground ourselves in reality. We have direct contact with the local media and innovative actors in our territory, and this continues to feed our thoughts and plans, maintaining an anchor and real knowledge of the realities of the media sector.
By Erin Wilson, Stephen Fozard, and John Mills