The Next Hot Media Startup Is…. Starbucks?

The coffee giant will soon start serving up socially conscious documentaries.

The Next Hot Media Startup Is…. Starbucks?
[Photo: Flickr user Rory MacLeod]

Starbucks is branching out. The retail giant, long known for serving up lattes and frappawhatevers in its more than 21,000 stores, is getting into one of the last businesses you’d expect it to. Would you believe nonfiction storytelling?

Yes, Starbucks is launching a media startup, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. The as-yet-unnamed venture will employ Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, who tweeted earlier today that he’s leaving the Post after more than 20 years.

The intention, according to Chandrasekaran’s tweet, is to create documentary-style video content for television and potentially longer films. The upstart’s focus will be on “social impact content,” which squares nicely with Starbucks’s efforts to keep up a socially conscious brand. But why would a company dedicated to slinging hot, caffeinated beverages suddenly shift to delivering media content?

Not much is known about the new venture, but Chandrasekaran has made it clear that the upstart will create works of nonfiction storytelling, not longform marketing copy to sell cups of coffee. And while mass media is normally not the easiest business to get started in, Starbucks already has the type of distribution muscle most newspapers can only dream of. Not only does Starbucks have more than 21,000 storefronts around the world, but each of them offers customers an easy–and typically free–way to access the Internet. Once users connect–at least initially–the screen real estate is Starbucks’s to exploit.

It also doesn’t hurt that Starbucks already has a profitable and well-established business model in place, and thus has the wiggle room to experiment with something as notoriously tricky as media. Like Pepsi, Red Bull, and a host of other decidedly non-media businesses, Starbucks can jump into the ever-trendy content game and, if nothing else, use it to broaden its reach and overall brand appeal.

Chandrasekaran–who served as the Post‘s Baghdad bureau chief and authored multiple books–is just the latest legacy media vet to abandon a venerated journalism outlet for a publishing upstart. Ezra Klein and Nate Silver come to mind, while the flow of newspaper reporters to outlets like BuzzFeed seems never-ending.

While details remain scarce, the scenario was obviously compelling enough to convince a 20-year veteran of one of the country’s most respected journalistic institutions to bail. Chandrasekaran will get started early next month building out whatever the project will ultimately become.

If you start hearing coworkers chatter about that new must-watch, Starbucks-backed documentary series, it’s a safe bet that this is only the beginning of this particular experiment. And if that’s the case, Starbucks certainly won’t be the last retail giant to dip its toe in the media business.

About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.

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