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Originally published March 18, 2013 at 7:08 PM | Page modified March 18, 2013 at 9:01 PM

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YouTube networks to still aim low

While the land rush to stream “premium” original content is drawing an increasing number of video professionals to the Web, YouTube’s swelling multichannel networks are finding success — and enormous scale — with a more organic, bottom-up approach.

The Associated Press

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NEW YORK — Machinima, the sprawling digital gaming network, could hang a McDonald’s-like sign outside its Los Angeles headquarters: More than 37.4 billion videos served.

That’s how many views the Machinima network has generated since Allen DeBevoise and his brother, Philip, started developing it on YouTube in 2007.

One of its first series came from a user named “SodaGod.” The series, “Inside Halo,” served as a center for enthusiasm for the popular science-fiction video-game franchise.

Six years later, Machinima has grown into one of the most successful networks on YouTube, a gamer hub composed of a little expensively produced original programming and a whole lot of user-generated videos.

While the land rush to stream “premium” original content is drawing more video professionals to the Web, YouTube’s swelling multichannel networks are finding success — and enormous scale — with a more bottom-up approach.

“The programming model of the future, where I think Machinima plays in, is in connecting that whole relationship, where we don’t think of it as either being user-generated or as being traditionally made by a professional creator,” says DeBevoise, chief executive of Machinima. “We think it’s a continuum, and they both coexist in the same world.”

Machinima, Maker Studios, Fullscreen and others have assembled broad networks, each with thousands of YouTube creators.

They’re dependably ranked among the most-viewed destinations on YouTube, each logging tens of millions of unique viewers and averaging around 2 billion views a month.

You could say that they’re like the NBC, CBS and ABC of YouTube, but a better comparison might be to media parent companies. Only rather than having a few dozen cable networks under their global umbrella, they have 5,000 to 10,000 YouTube channels.

“We see ourselves as kind of the next-Gen Viacom,” says George Strompolos, founder and chief executive of Fullscreen, a company with 150 employees founded in 2011. “We think we’re at the beginning of the opportunity to build a large-scale, sustainable new media business on the Internet.”

Much of the conversation about online video has lately been dominated by Hollywood digital productions. But for every “House of Cards” on Netflix, there are dozens of less noteworthy attempts to bring TV-style content to online video.

These upper-echelon YouTube networks are interested in high-quality programming, too, but their model is more of a hybrid that places pricier productions atop a pyramid of user-generated videos.

“We feel like ‘premium’ is so subjective,” says Danny Zappin, co-founder of Maker Studios, where two studios and 300-plus employees assist YouTubers in production and marketing.

“What is premium? For us, we feel like it’s an engaged audience who has a personal connection to the person they’re watching. To us, that’s more premium or more valuable than, say, high production value or a mainstream celebrity.”

The growing number of YouTube networks share a philosophy of strength in numbers. By gathering thousands of channels together, all might benefit from shared production tools, greater exposure and, hopefully, more advertising dollars.

The most-watched network on YouTube is VEVO, the music-video venture from Sony Music and Universal Music. In many ways, VEVO filled the gap for a music-video network left by MTV’s programming shift toward reality television.

Last week, VEVO made that explicit by launching VEVO TV, a 24/7 broadcast stream of videos that effectively makes it a TV station sent through Internet and mobile-phone pipes.

Machinima, similarly, has no competitors on TV. It has become the most powerful gaming network around, and a major draw for 18- to 34-year-old males.

Premium episodic series (the $10 million, five-part series “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn” was watched 26 million times in just over a month last year) are pooled in its Machinima Prime channel.

Thousands of channels from gamers around the world contribute to the network.

DeBevoise expects to soon make one or more of Machinima’s channels paid for by subscription. It recently signed a deal with Ridley Scott, director of “Blade Runner” and “Gladiator,” to produce a dozen short sci-fi films.

DeBevoise believes the YouTube networks will mature rapidly “just because of how technology is moving so quickly.”

“The Makers, the Fullscreens, the Machinimas, the VEVOs, the StyleHauls, the DanceONs, all these types of companies that are evolving on YouTube will evolve into people’s consciousness much faster than anybody expected,” he says.

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