If you’re still wondering why DreamWorks Animation spent $33 million last spring to buy the YouTube channel AwesomenessTV, an article about Netflix in the latest issue of the New Yorker offers an explanation that I found to be succinct and worth sharing. The only background info you need to know before reading this excerpt from Ken Auletta’s article is that former child actor Brian Robbins (Head of the Class), the founder of AwesomenessTV, created the YouTube-derived Fred: The Movie and Fred: The Show properties, which have both been hits for Nickelodeon. The success of those projects inspired his subsequent devotion to online entertainment ventures:
Robbins decided to form a company, AwesomenessTV, to create content for YouTube channels—there are more than half a billion on YouTube.com. In the world of YouTube, not only is every device a television but every viewer is a potential network and content provider.
Robbins works in a brick-walled office in a two-story industrial building in West Los Angeles. He has thirty young employees, and he roams around in jeans, a T-shirt, and shiny black sneakers. Just before Thanksgiving in 2012, AwesomenessTV ran a promotion asking subscribers, “Do you want to be the next YouTube star?” Two hundred thousand teen-agers responded, and nearly half of them started their own YouTube channels, attracting sixty million unique monthly visitors. Today, eighty-five thousand kids have channels on AwesomenessTV, and thirty-one million teens and tweens have visited the site. “When you speak to kids, the No. 1 thing they want is to be famous,” Robbins said. “They don’t even know for what.”
Advertisers want to reach this young demographic. Last May, DreamWorks Animation bought Robbins’s company, for thirty-three million dollars. [Jeffrey] Katzenberg told me that, “by the end of next year, under AwesomenessTV, we could have as many daily active users as the Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon together.”
As various pieces of the puzzle come together, the developing picture at DreamWorks Animation suggests that Katzenberg wants to turn the company into a viable Internet-era competitor to the Big Three (Disney Channel, Nick, Cartoon Network). So far, the pieces include AwesomenessTV, a mega-content deal with Netflix and the acquisition of Classic Media’s portfolio of properties. Somewhere in this mix is DreamWorks’s core brand—its animated features.
At some point, we will likely see the convergence and consolidation of these different streams, and the company could reinvent itself as a multi-tentacled entertainment beast with powerful online cred. It’s not even clear if Katzenberg knows where it’s all going to end up, but there’s definitely a gameplan at work and it’s a fascinatingly ambitious vision. For the time being, it’s best to get used to the idea that DreamWorks Animation now means both How to Train Your Dragon and this: