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Why DreamWorks Animation Bought AwesomenessTV

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 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:

  • jonhanson

    It definitely is fascinating, even if I’ve been underwhelmed with most of Dreamworks non-film work. I feel like we’ll look back at all of this as a genius move tat sent Dreamworks toward Disney-level heights or the overstretch that tanked Dreamworks. Or neither, I’m not good at predictions.

    It would be really cool if these shows meant some original, network quality animation shows on youtube.

  • tom bancroft

    I see a lot of teen’s parents, with mics and video equipment in hand, trying to get rich- along with Jeffrey.

  • Oh…its awesome.

    We can only Hope that AwesomenessTV is as least successful as their venture. Good luck Dreamworks!

    • AmidAmidi

      Consumer access to the Internet and online consumption habits are entirely unrecognizable from 15 years ago when DreamWorks SKG attempted the film site Pop. I’m not arguing whether DreamWorks’ new online ventures will be successful or not, only that bringing up the failure of Pop is irrelevant as an indicator of the latest developments at DWA.

      • GS

        I once visited’s offices back in the day. Grand pianos, arcade games, and bluescreens. Ah, the dot-com bubble. It definitely is a different world now. Broadband wasn’t even pervasive back then.

  • Bobby B

    you know the top graphic is not AwesomenessTV, it’s an off-shoot AwesomenessX – and an old version of that to boot. AwesomenessTV is much more female oriented. Where did you even get that? If you made it yourself, you must’ve worked really hard to find all the wrong stuff.

    • AmidAmidi

      We replaced it with a girlier image. Hope you’re pleased now.

  • jonhanson

    The thing is that so far it’s been hard to make money from the sort of traditional original content that works on TV. You can spend $10,000 on a video and get blown away by a guy in his room with a $100 web cam.

    Like you said, Youtube is fickle and the main success to come from it seem more like the results of millions of people throwing stuff up against the wall and seeing what sticks. So far traditional media companies have had a hard time trying to harness this medium the way they’ve been able to profit from TV but maybe Dreamworks can.

    • OtherDan

      I think Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon are keener about what good strategies are. Disney has that name recognition. All they have to do is not muck it up. Dreamworks…needs a good strategy-still.

      • OtherDan

        By the way, big studios will always have to contend with small creatives who are smart enough to get exposure. The smarter thing to do is get creative people in executive leadership positions-people who have an opinion, a “good” aesthetic sense, and who can recognize talent or potential. I’m not saying Nick or CN are the BEST at that. But, at the top, I think they are.

        • IcyTea

          I wouldn’t say Nick recognizes talent, since they rejected Adventure Time twice and rejected other really good pilots. All I see that is rejected by CN is half-*** work.