In January, when lush stills from the 1982 futuristic movie Tron surfaced online, they were purported to be from an unreleased version filmed by Alejandro Jodorowksy in 1976, six years before the Disney blockbuster hit screens. But in a surprising twist, it turns out the filmmaker never made such a movie. Instead, the images were generated as a test of an artificial intelligence platform called Midjourney, which brings photo-realistic visuals to life from descriptive commands.
Breakthroughs such as Midjourney’s Tron visuals are just one example of how today’s rapidly evolving technology is leading to a new era in media. Such breakthroughs are among the topics Miklos Sarvary, the Carson Family Professor of Business in the Marketing Division at Columbia Business School, and Jonathan Knee, the Michael Fries Professor of Managerial Practice, will explore in heading the new Media and Technology Lab.
Building on the School’s 15-year-old Media and Technology Program, the lab will focus on the overlap between the evolution of media and entertainment and the technological breakthroughs that continue to shape it. Through expanded resources and cross-disciplinary collaboration, it will fund and disseminate advanced research on how technology has transformed the media sector and how to address new challenges that emerge. It will also support regular seminars that include the presentation and discussion of papers by notable researchers from across the United States and the world.
Given the proliferation of technology, this is a moment to be analytical and thoughtful about separating the excitement about new technology from the prospects of what such advances might mean to business, Sarvary says. As such, CBS is uniquely positioned to bring its rich history of fundamental analysis to technology companies, he notes.
One key task for the new program is to consider signs of viability and watch what happens, Sarvary says. The goal is to learn or predict which of these emerging technologies will become the next big things or dominant platforms of the future and which will fail to gain traction.
The lab’s analytical approach will hold new technologies to the same standards that apply in reviewing all aspects of a business. Assessing whether there are benefits from economies of scale or network effects resulting from bringing a new technology to market can help separate passing fads from developments with lasting promise. The lab will bring the results of its research into the classroom, offering new perspectives on evaluating the business impact of new technologies. And as always at CBS, investment fundamentals will remain at the heart of any analysis.
“There is a set of technologies to assess, and Columbia Business School has a tradition of understanding what makes businesses profitable for the long term,” Sarvary says. He notes this approach builds on the school’s reputation for being the birthplace of value investing, which established “the foundation that allows you to assess whether a business is going to be profitable in the long term or not.”
One course that illustrates this is Media Platforms and Content, in which students analyze both established and new companies representing different types of media firms, ranging from TV to video games to social networks. This year, visiting speakers included Strauss Zelnick, founder and managing partner at ZMC and CEO of Take- Two Interactive Software, and Bob Cohn, president of The Economist. Over the years, CBS has hosted group fireside chats that have included executives such as Charlie Collier, who was CEO of Fox Entertainment at the time, and Reed Hastings, then-CEO of Netflix.
It’s those rich connections between New York City’s business community and the School that add unparalleled value to the CBS experience. Frequent events, from large-scale debates to intimate lunch gatherings, have led to student internships with Amazon, The Walt Disney Company, Google, Spotify, TikTok, and others.
“Executives at the forefront of this field come to campus to meet students and be a part of the discussion,” Sarvary says. “The idea is to really create connections and for people to learn in ways that go beyond the cases and the lectures."