Digital Dealmaker Amina Canter Is Bringing Traditional Chops to Video Deals

Astonauts Wanted has skyrocketed into this industry and perhaps one of the coolest parts about their early traction is that its core team is from the traditional television business. Former MTV topper, and Astronauts Wanted founder, Judy McGrath is recognized on our Power Sixers list this year and joining her on the Dealmakers of 2016 list is COO and Senior Vice President, Amina Canter. Formerly from Time Warner Cable where she ran video strategy and business development, Canter’s career includes time at major studios and networks like NBC Universal and Universal Studio. She understands the various layers of business and the true ceiling for big deals by Hollywood standards, which is a likely contributor to the deals she’s done for Astronauts Wanted that have cemented the company as a must-hit production company for distributors like YouTube Red and go90.

The opportunity of being in a budding business is that executives early on the scene can truly impact establishment of business models, deal structures and the economics of the future business. Canter is doing exactly that for the online video space and for Astronauts Wanted as she has shaped their development, talent, branded entertainment, shopping, distribution and partnership deal structures.

And here Canter shares her views on the opportunities and challenges of the current business as well as details about her favorite deals.

VideoInk: Which deals have been the most exciting or challenging to package so far in your career?

AC: When I joined AW, it was still a very early-stage start-up in a still-nascent original online video space. After I closed our first couple licensing deals, I still worried a bit about where the next deal would come from. By the third one, I knew we were onto something, that the market had really opened up, and that we were well on our way as a business. The most meaningful deal for AW was the deal for “A Trip to Unicorn Island” with YouTube Red. It was big for the company to be a part of the inaugural four pieces of content for such an important new SVOD platform — and it was great that we got to do that with a talented, professional and delightful individual like Lilly Singh. And even more amazing, in terms of the deal, we got from deal points to signed paper in a record two weeks!

VI: You’re building new models but you have the old school formats to draw from. Has there been anyone you consult with or has served as a mentor on doing great deals?

AC: When I worked at NBC/Universal, I was lucky enough to work in JB Perrette’s Digital Distribution group. JB helped close lots of early digital deals for traditional media and set some of the standards for the industry. He approached deals rationally — with a real sense of making sure that value being created by each party was accounted for in a deal. And when I worked at Time Warner Cable, I was lucky to work with Melinda Witmer, who has run one of the largest content acquisition businesses in the US. Melinda approached deals with boundless creativity, happy to invent new structures whenever necessary to make sure both parties could get to a deal that worked for them. Both of those ideas — rational valuation and creativity in dealmaking — have stuck with me throughout my career.

VI: Do you think there’s more opportunity to be creative given the industry is still so young?

AC: There’s so much experimentation, and there are new models seemingly every day. That allows for some real creativity in deal making. And when there’s room for creativity and so much industry growth, both sides of a deal can usually win [since] no real formula [exists for] what a “standard deal” [looks like].

In this relatively young industry, we’re all trying to build businesses, and you have to do deals with that in mind. You have to make sure that you’re getting appropriate value for your side of the deal, but you also have to make sure that you’re helping your partner on the other side of the deal to build their business.

VI: Any in particular that you thought were really telling about the future of the business or moving the needle for everyone in this industry?

AC: Netflix’s acquisitions “Camp Takota,” “Expelled,” and “The Smosh Movie.” A premium SVOD acquiring digitally-native content really made a lot of people in the broader video industry wake up and realize the talent and business opportunity in the digital space was something to pay attention to.

VI: Is there a trend you’re finding holds the most promise?

AC: The proliferation of online video platforms! There are new business models and different approaches to the market for many of these new platforms. It’s hard to know what approach — and what platform — will catch-on with consumers. But new players are great for the industry — they not only give consumers more options, but more competition raises the game of each player out there.

VI: Does it make doing deals more difficult at times because there are so many platforms and differing business models?

AC: As someone who spent about a decade working in cable TV, I can’t help but think that a dual-revenue stream model — both some SVOD and some ad revenue in the same business — is the best model out there. No one is doing that quite yet in the digital space, but I’m sure someone will soon.

VI: And are there any bad notions about video that you wish could be corrected?

AC: The biggest misconception is that digital video is user-generated, or not made by professionals. These days, amazing digital videos are created by everyone, from professionals at the New York Times, to professionals like Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, to professionals like Mamrie Hart and Nora Lum (aka Awkwafina). Great, professionally-produced digital video content comes from lots of people, and the digital landscape today has just democratized what rises to the top.

Amina Canter is featured at part of VideoInk’s Dealmakers of 2016 special issue.