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Eighteen years of tae kwon do taught Tony Cort a thing or two about discipline, confidence, and self-defense. However, this second-degree black belt realized that while America loves a good martial arts movie now and then, the industry doesn’t always get the respect it deserves, at least from a marketing perspective.
“There are 28,000 martial arts schools in 4,400 cities nationwide, and about 24 million martial arts practitioners over the age of 12,” says Cort, 44. “That’s a significant audience, but also a fragmented one that had no media platform on which to showcase itself.”
Intent on bridging the gap, Cort began the development of a martial arts channel in 2000. Four years later he founded Newark, New Jersey-based Breakthrough Communications. What began as a marketing company for the martial arts community morphed last July into Breakthrough Interactive Group Inc., an entertainment firm that produces an online channel targeting this group.
Known as MAC Experience (www.macexperience.com), the platform comprises TV programming over the Internet, education, social networking among martial arts enthusiasts, and e-commerce products. Programming ranges from pure entertainment to education to health and fitness, while MAC University provides distance learning.
“We switched from a focus on cable and satellite content distribution to an interactive communications company centered on new media technologies such as Internet and wireless delivery,” says Cort, CEO of the six-employee firm. He expects revenues to reach $4 million in 2007 through advertising and sponsorships.
Catering primarily to an audience of males age 12 to 24, the firm’s recent content includes an interview with martial arts movie stars Jet Li and Tony Jaa and a Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) demonstration by Jaa. The company also has special programming for families, females, and 25- to 29-year-olds.
Cort developed programming models that go beyond kung fu movies. Technology played a key role in that effort, says Cort. To satisfy its audience’s growing need for mobility, MAC Experience also offers select programming for download to an MP3 player, cell phone, or laptop and cultivates a social networking environment where martial arts enthusiasts can interact with each other.
“We saw the Internet as a global distribution opportunity,” says Cort, who pinpoints fundraising as a key business challenge. Raising money from family and friends (in the amount of $1.25 million since inception) is one thing, but convincing angel investors of the opportunity is something else entirely. “We’re on the cusp of a great opportunity here,” says Cort, “but because no one else is doing it, we’ve had a hard time finding investors.”
Cort says audience response, however, has surpassed his expectations. With a presence in 101 countries, MAC Experience boasts an average viewership of one hour and 41 minutes for its martial arts channel, and 44 minutes for its radio channel. One martial arts instructor impressed by Cort’s efforts is Master Dennis Brown of Washington, D.C. (www.dennisbrown shaolin.com). “A lot of people have tried to get martial arts on TV, but they never seem to pan out,” says Brown. “Tony’s vision was much clearer than anyone else’s because he’s