In the wake of the Aug. 25 Primetime Emmy Awards, the conversation turned once again to Netflix and how it was shut out of awards in the major categories despite multiple nominations for buzzed-about series Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards. That Netflix was at the center of the post-Emmy chatter was evidence that its original programming strategy— now being adopted and adapted by competitors Amazon and Hulu—has helped embed the company in the public consciousness. Companies such as Maker Studios, Fullscreen and Machinima, meanwhile, have harnessed massive audiences on YouTube, attracting both viewers (by the millions), and also the attention of traditional media companies such as Disney, which agreed in April to buy Maker for as much as $900 million.
Just as the Netflixes and Makers have disrupted the television business, they will inevitably find themselves shaken up by emerging digital content and distribution companies. As stakeholders gather in the Bay Area for B&C and Multichannel News’ Next TV Summit San Francisco, here are some of the hopefuls making news of late.
CEO Jonathan Skogmo founded Jukin Media in 2009 after four years producing television clip shows. Today the company specializes in packaging viral videos for the kinds of clips shows on which Skogmo used to work (as well as network morning shows, where viral Web videos have become a staple) and for aggregation on the Web via its YouTube channels, such as FailArmy. In May, Jukin’s network for the first time cracked comScore’s list of the top 10 YouTube partners with more than 13 million total unique viewers the previous month.
Because Jukin acquires the rights to the videos it gathers, it owns its library—making it well positioned for its next step. “The natural shift for us is to start producing those clip shows ourselves,” Skogmo says. In April, the company signed a deal with Dick Clark Productions to coproduce a FailArmy television show and a separate agreement with Maker Studios to coproduce shows for digital platforms. In June, Jukin hired MTV veteran Jessica Samet as head of TV production.
“After our first meeting, she told me that Jukin reminded her of the early days of MTV,” Skogmo says. “I thought that was really cool.”
Pluto.TV launched a linear service in March, presenting more than 100 channels of content that are delivered, according to cofounder Tom Ryan, “in a 24/7 fashion with episodes that are expertly curated by our in-house team of professional curators.”
Of course, there is another platform that features more than 100 expertly curated channels delivering 24/7 content. It’s called television. Ryan is aware of this.
“When you look at the numbers of how people still watch video, live linear television still dwarfs the amount of Web video that is consumed.” So it makes sense to Ryan to present that Web video content in a proven fashion—while employing a proven, adsupported revenue model—via a Web portal and smart TV apps.
The partners feeding video content to Pluto.TV agree. The company announced Aug. 27 that it had added Complex Media, Fullscreen, Hitfix, Popsugar and SpinMedia to a roster of content partners that already includes Funny or Die and QVC.
Though Rooster Teeth’s YouTube channel has more than 7.7 million subscribers, “We don’t consider ourselves YouTubers in the traditional sense,” says company founder Burnie Burns. This is because Rooster Teeth predates YouTube, having been founded in 2003 out of a spare room in Burns’ house.
Series such as Red vs. Blue and RWBY are produced as features, then carved up into short episodes to play on the Web. The practice dates back to Rooster Teeth’s early days, when home video drove revenue— and it still serves a purpose. On Netflix, seasons of Red vs. Blue can be viewed as full-length features. On Hulu, they can be watched as short series of roughly half-hour episodes. On YouTube, episodes typically range between eight and 12 minutes.
In July, Rooster Teeth raised more than $2.4 million in crowdfunding for a feature film titled Lazer Team— the most money ever raised for a film on Indiegogo, and 382% of the company’s fundraising goal. Burns plans to approach the movie with typical platform agnosticism. “We’re in the middle of making a nine- to 12-month project here, and we have to see what the state of content delivery is when we finish it.”
Founded by actor Rainn Wilson in 2009, SoulPancake bills itself as a hub for content focused on art, philosophy and spirituality. After an early deal with OWN—whose proprietor knows a thing or two about self-improvement content—expired, SoulPancake became one of the first 100 partner channels to receive funding from YouTube in 2011. Today its channel has more than 1.3 million subs, and the company recently received a second round of funding from YouTube.
CEO Shabnam Mogharabi said that SoulPancake will continue to invest in its YouTube presence as an incubator, but, she added, “If you’re [a multichannel network] and you’ve wrapped up 500 million followers that you can capitalize on, perhaps there’s a model there. But for independent channels and YouTube brands like ours, it’s not really where you build your business.”
SoulPancake has made recent strides toward other, more monetization-friendly platforms. In June, Kid President: Declaration of Awesome, based on one of the company’s Web series, premiered on the Hub Network. In August, Pivot announced a deal to create a series of 15-minute programming blocks featuring SoulPancake content.
Live sports is the biggest draw in linear television. But it’s in sports-related content that John West, founder and CEO of Whistle Sports, plays. With Whistle, West is building a sports brand that he described as “family friendly,” one that is a result of the dismay he felt while watching cynical, adult-focused sports programming with his kids and the curiosity sparked by observing those same kids’ non-linear viewing habits.
A YouTube multichannel network, Whistle aggregates content from across YouTube in a way similar to entertainment companies such as Maker and Fullscreen. It is venturing into original content, including coproductions with some of its league partners, whose ranks include the NFL, PGA, MLB and NASCAR. (The NFL is also an equity investor in the company.) In June, Whistle acquired The Lacrosse Network, a move that is providing the company its first opportunity to stream live sports events. And like other brands that rely on YouTube, Whistle is looking at other platforms, having recently launched an app on Xbox.
“As we grow on other platforms, we limit some of the economic risk that comes just from a YouTube MCN,” West says.