To attract and hold those ever darting teenage eyeballs, it’s all about constantly refreshing content – and trying to be “authentic” in the process. That’s what Brian Robbins, the founder-CEO of the year-old YouTube sensation called AwesomenessTV, told a crowd of MIPJr attendees Sunday morning.
The former actor (Head of the Class), turned “traditional” TV producer (Smallville and One Tree Hill), turned online channel purveyor said no one was more stunned than he at the speed with which things have happened to and for his company in little more than a year.
By studying the habits of his own kids and their friends, he realized there’s a shift going on in what and how they watch that’s rattling the entire media landscape.
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"There’s a real disruption brewing," he told the assembled delegates to the two-day MIPJR market at the Carlton hotel. “Windows are collapsing and kids everywhere are demanding ever more available content. There’s no doubt that online channels are revolutionizing the business.”
Robbins described how his own YouTube channels -- he started with 20 and now juggles 85 -- caught on with the demo and how quickly (and cheaply) he and his team are turning around material. One funny sketch about the launch of Apple’s iPhone 5 on a channel called Randomness, for example, was done practically overnight, and cost $500 to put together.
Another of his channels produced a teen drama called Side Effects, which this summer transitioned to Nickelodeon and is out-performing most other such teen fiction the cabler has aired.
“A great thing about incubating material online, he told the crowd, is that “you get to experiment and the cost of failure is not high.” To wit, his own company – where he is the oldest executive – does not hold “development meetings: “We don’t have time; we have making stuff meetings.”
The stats related to AwesomenessTV are in their own way awesome: some 65 million unique visitors to the various channels of mostly short-form material and, of those viewers, almost half are from outside North America.
"I’d say we’re really a social network where kids can create and curate content. In fact, the lines between consuming and participating in creating media are quickly blurring," he explained.
Having worked in both visual worlds, Robbins said the big problem for traditional TV, especially in the teen space, is that they can’t churn out enough original refreshed material quickly enough, nor cheaply enough. "Just look at their schedules. Only four or five new things at any one time; so much else is repeats. That’s not something kids take to. They’re nothing if not impatient (for the new and different)," he said
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As to what could have been the ticklish question of how to make money out of all this, Robbins no longer has to worry overmuch about addressing the issue. Just nine months after its start-up, Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Dreamworks Animation stepped in this past May and acquired AwesomenessTV in what was hailed as a prescient move to quickly enhance its own digital strategy. The reported $33 million cash deal was the first such big media outlay for one of YouTube’s original content experiments.
So now what? Asked by The Hollywood Reporter if he would now make a movie for his new owners, Robbins said, “I’m to stay in my lane. That’s not the business Awesomeness is in.” Rather, Robbins will oversee the creation of a branded family YouTube network which utilizes some of DWA’s resources and assets.
Will he be getting more involved in animation online as a result of the buyout? “Certainly DreamWorks has great technical facilities and we’ll now be able to take advantage of those,” he told THR.
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