The Start of Something Great: Canal Start and Cinemacity at SXSW

March 10, 2014 | By Kate Kudish

Some say that South by Southwest Interactive “sold out” when the festival stopped focusing on the startups. But at this annual celebration of all things digital, start-ups are certainly still on the menu, and I would argue that plenty of energy and novelty remain.  You want parties and music, you got it. You want tacos, you got it. You want startups, you still got it.  There are plenty of innovative and interesting new technologies and entrepreneurs here.

The rapid growth and popularity of South by Southwest Interactive in recent years proves that technology is a pillar of society in America today.  But SXSW has changed in that it isn’t just about American startups anymore, or even Silicon Alley or Valley. The international community is joining the technology takeover in Austin, and maybe this year, the next Twitter or FourSquare will be from Paris, Berlin, or London.  

Canal+ Group, a French film and television media company, is putting a lot of clout and investment in the startup scene. The French media giant launched Canal Start in November, a startup incubator-style initiative aimed at helping innovative entrepreneurs gain market traction and scale.

“In media, innovation is also about technology. We decided to launch Canal Start to have a specific team and a specific development strategy around startups, ” Fabienne Fourquet, Director of New Content at Canal+ told us at the opening day of The French Tech Club in Austin.

Canal Start received over 70 pitches in three months and is now in the final round of selecting 2-4 startups for the program. Each startup will receive a grant of up to $100,000, in addition to the indispensable technology, marketing and data resources of Canal+ Group. Fourquet said, in interviewing the startups, “this can be a very valuable partnership […] they will help us innovate. It will be a win-win relationship.”

She continued to explain that “there is definitely a momentum around startups in France right now, and it is a good thing it is happening now. When we had the idea for Canal Start, we looked around and saw a lot of startup incubator initiatives but there weren’t a lot of media companies doing it. We are quite happy to be involved in the first one in France.”

Most of the startups Canal Start is looking for are focused on, “social media, video, exploring new types of media programming, especially ways to get out of the TV screen and show new ways to tell stories.”

One French startup at South by Southwest Interactive doing just that is Cinemacity, a unique app that allows you to watch a scene from a movie (and maybe eventually scenes from TV shows) at the exact location where it was originally shot. Launched only 6 months ago, Cinemacity already has 28,000 downloads, without any advertising or promotional spend.

The complimentary characters Michel Reilhac and Pierre Cattan joined forces to create Cinemacity, and have found so much success that they are currently working on a second version and expanding to Berlin and NYC. Cattan is a talented interactive producer and Reilhac is a celebrated film buff and producer and has served as commissioner for Arte. Together they create a harmonious blend of traditional film culture and technology. Reilhac and Cattan have big plans for the future and strong opinions on where digital and social media is heading.

Their Cinemacity came out of a deep desire to connect. Reilhac believes, “People are craving real experiences. We are overdosing on content you can only access on screens. We want to go back to having true friends and honest experiences that are truly either moving or transformative.” Cinemacity’s technology encourages users to engage in those real experiences by bringing them out and about, walking in their city, experiencing and viewing the film moments they stand in. “It has the magic of film in a traditional approach and the appeal of a cool tech app,” he said.

This duo sees the future of media in these genuine moments, and believes technology can help encourage their creation. Together we watched the Coca-Cola Social Media Guard to prove this point, a spoof on the silliness of our society’s obsession with our devices, instead of each other. If a corporate titan like Coca-Cola is creating advertisements to encourage people to take hold of their lives, put down their technology and enjoy real experiences, so should digital media. Cattan hopes that Cinemacity and other new technologies will help people get “back to reality and go beyond the screen. We want to merge the digital and physical world.”

Reilhac agreed: “There is a new trend of saying, let’s go back to real moments. It doesn’t mean let’s drop social networking, but it is about bringing it back to where it belongs, a tool on a shelf.” Experiential, user centric content is where these two envision the future and success for innovators.

Both Canal Start and Cinemacity are changing how new media and technology is envisioned in France, and being at South by Southwest is a massive part of that. Reilhac attended South by Southwest last year and already sees the impact of the support of the French Embassy and government:  “For the first time, we have a very visible presence here, and it makes a huge difference. It is a huge commitment to new technologies, as well as startups. […] To see that there is an official recognition of this new world is very encouraging. ”

The American “startup nation” mantra is one France is also beginning to adopt. Encouraging and supporting intense—even destabilizing—French innovation is a priority, and its tech scene is quite clearly bursting with energy.

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