The YouTube network that kicked off a flurry of online-video-network acquisitions a year and a half ago has now added a new backer -- and with it, plans for a new revenue stream.
In May 2013 DreamWorks Animation acquired AwesomenessTV, then a year-old YouTube network, for $33 million in cash and promises of other considerations that could total $117 million. This week AwesomenessTV was newly valued at $325 million after DreamWorks Animation sold a 25% stake in it to Hearst Corp. for $81.3 million.
If the original DreamWorks Animation deal for AwesomenessTV was about bridging the traditional and digital-video worlds, this latest deal appears to center partly on how to best make money from digital video. That doesn't mean just advertising.
"I think that our individual creators have an opportunity to deliver their content directly to their audience behind a paywall and that they will pay for the content that they're passionate about," AwesomenessTV CEO and Founder Brian Robbins said. "We see that as a big opportunity."
To date AwesomenessTV has had two revenue sources: advertisers and other media companies.
Brands such as Royal Caribbean and Subway took notice of AwesomenessTV's network of YouTube channels, which include stars like Tyler Oakley and the Cimorelli sisters, and signed sponsorship deals. Others have simply bought ads against the more than 114 million subscribers and 800 million views AwesomenessTV's network claims to attract each month. The network notched 6.5 million unique desktop viewers in the U.S. in October, which was an 18% rise from last year, according to comScore.
Various media companies, such as Nickelodeon and Hearst, have recognized AwesomenessTV's knack for producing programming teens and tweens love and paid the network to produce shows for their properties. AwesomenessTV has created a TV show and made-for-TV movie on Nickelodeon. And Awesomeness has produced videos for Hearst-owned Seventeen magazine's relaunched YouTube channel and set up a network of YouTube channels from the publication's fans.
Despite all of those dealings, AwesomenessTV, like most online video networks, has yet to strike it rich.
AwesomenessTV has generated $30.2 million in revenue for DreamWorks Animation since the acquisition closed last year and through the third quarter of this year, according to the parent company's regulatory filings. In the most recent quarter, AwesomenessTV's revenue grew by 57% to $5.5 million. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the $142.4 million the studio made from feature films during that period.
But DreamWorks Animation's acquisition of AwesomenessTV -- as with Disney's deal for Maker Studios, Otter Media's for Fullscreen and RTL Group's for StyleHaul -- was never about immediacy but potential. DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said earlier this year that the feature-film business "is not a growth business." And he's been very outright in saying that digital distribution is a growth business. These online-video networks are considered to be ushering in the future of entertainment, and the traditional entertainment giants don't want to be left behind. Neither does Hearst.
In July of this year Hearst debuted its digital video arm, Hearst Digital Studios, in a bid to catch up to Conde Nast's 21-month-old Conde Nast Entertainment. At the same time, Hearst said it had developed technology to sell subscriptions to its video content a la Netflix or HBO. That streaming-video subscription business premiered with CosmoBody, a $9.95-a-month fitness channel that streams workout videos through a browser site and mobile apps for devices running Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems.
Now Hearst will look to extend that subscription business to AwesomenessTV. Here's what Awesomeness TV founder Mr. Robbins had to say about the future in this edited transcript.