NewFronts Day 6: Fullscreen, Machinima, and Defy Media Take the Stage
By Sahil Patel
A year after it held an unofficial presentation during the 2014 Digital Content NewFronts, Fullscreen returned to New York this spring in a more official capacity.
The core message the MCN had for advertisers in the room? Continue buying media with YouTube if you want to, but to get more value out of your advertising dollars, you should partner with the influential stars in Fullscreen’s lineup to create custom content that span all of the social platforms they’re active on — not just YouTube.
One of the biggest talent networks online, Fullscreen currently represents nearly 70,000 creators, including bigger names
such as Grace Helbig, The Fine Brothers, Devin Super Tramp, Lohanthony, and Jack and Jack. The company also owns Rooster Teeth, the Austin-based digital studio and network behind such hit web series as “Red vs. Blue” and “RWBY.”
In total, Fullscreen’s network boasts 600 million subscribers on YouTube. It reaches one in four online video viewers in the US in the highly-coveted under-35 demographic each month, according to Peter Chernin, CEO of The Chernin Group, which owns Fullscreen parent Otter Media.
The teen and millennial demos are Fullscreen’s bread and butter, the company’s executives said from the stage. And it wants to help advertisers reach these people in a way that’s unique to the platforms they are watching and engaging on.
To scale Fullscreen’s capabilities in this area, the MCN also announced that it has acquired a social media studio called McBeard.
Based in LA, McBeard employs a team of more than 100 full-time copywriters, designers, and strategists, all dedicated to social content development and creation for platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Snapchat. The studio’s services will now be available to Fullscreen’s creator network, production units, and brand partners. Previously, the studio has serviced clients like Coca-Cola, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros., Mattel, and Netflix.
One of McBeard’s former clients include Fullscreen, which it has partnered with on social series such as “@SummerBreak” and “SnapperHero,” a scripted format produced exclusively for Snapchat.
With the acquisition, McBeard will now operate as a “fully-integrated” subsidiary of Fullscreen, the companies said.
That was not the only announcement made by Fullscreen during its first official NewFront. Continuing with its theme of producing native content for different social platforms, Fullscreen said it’s offering a real-time video offering for brands on Twitter. Using the social network’s Amplify program, Fullscreen will sell branded programs featuring its talent that can help drive attention to tentpole pop-culture events.
The company is also partnering with measurement firms Nielsen and Millward Brown to “qualify and validate” the reach of custom content and influencer marketing when compared to linear TV buying, it said.
Also, it’s signed fashion and lifestyle vlogger Eva Gutowski (aka: MyLifeAsEva) to its network. Gutowski has 2.38 million
subscribers and has previously worked with brands including Proactiv and TRESemme.
Of course, as it is a NewFront, Fullscreen also spent some time showcasing the premium, longer-form original content it’s currently producing. This included: “#O2LForever,” a docu-film following the now-defunct supergroup Our2ndLife; “The Outfield,” a high-school comedy starring Vine stars Cameron Dallas and Nash Grier; “Lazer Team,” a sci-fi comedy from Rooster Teeth, which broke the crowdfunding record on Indiegogo; and “Electra Woman and Dyna Girl,” a superhero series starring Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart, which Fullscreen is producing in partnership with Legendary and Sid and Marty Krofft.
In its history, Machinima has created and released 388 scripted and unscripted original series, which have combined to generate more than 100 billion views across platforms, according to the company’s CEO Chad Gutstein. At its first official NewFronts presentation, the Warner Bros.-backed company showcased more original series that will add to those numbers.
Chief among them, Machinima announced that it’s partnering with Hollywood producer and scribe Roberto Orci on an all-new live-action series called “High School 51.” Very little was said about the series, which will be created and produced by Orci, best known for blockbusters such as “Transformers,” “Star Trek,” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” It will follow Alex Valencia, the only human attending a secretive high-school in the notorious Area 51. So far, the cast includes Orlando Jones (“Sleepy Hollow,” Machinima’s own “Tainted Love”).
Other top projects showcased by Machinima include several series that reimagine popular Hollywood franchises.
With Warner Bros., Machinima is involved in several different series.
“Justice League: Gods & Monsters Chronicles,” which offers an alternative take on the three core DC superheroes (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman), is set to premiere in June. Machinima also announced that it will be the home to a
Machinima, Blue Ribbon, and DC Entertainment are also coming together on a new docu-series called “DC’s Hero Project.” It follow eight contestants as they compete to develop a live-action short video based on their own interpretations of the DC character Starman.
Another DC Comics-based projects is “#4Hero,” which is a modernized adaptation of the cult comic “Dial H for Hero.” “#4Hero,” a VFX-heavy action-comedy, will follow a young woman who stumbles upon a magical smartphone app that allows her to instantly become a superhero for a short amount of time. The problem is her powers are dictated by whatever is trending on social media at that time, and are always only semi-useful.
If you’re catching on to a trend, you’re not far off; a lot of the programming unveiled by Machinima were reinterpretations of classic IP.
For instance, the network is also working on a live-action comedy series called “RoboCops,” which will follow various RoboCops as they try to apprehend criminals in the fictional Delta City. The series will be shot like episodes of “Cops,” using dash-cam and security camera footage to weave the sketches together.
Machinima has also ordered an animated series based on the hit online game “Happy Wheels.” Produced by Bunim/Murray Productions, the 10-episode short-form show has already signed on YouTuber Toby Turner (15.2 million subscribers) to star, and is looking to add other influencers to the voice cast.
Other new series include: “Clive Barker’s Creepy Pasta,” which will see the notorious horror filmmaker making short-films based on viral internet horror stories (also known as “Creepy Pasta”); and “Jerome ASF’s The Baka Chronicles,” which is a Minecraft animated series about two server admins who have to protect their turf against trolls and pranksters.
A bunch of Machinima’s long-running series are also returning, the company said, including “AFK,” “Chasing the Cup,” “Battlefield Friends,” “Sanity Not Included,” “Deck Wars,” and “ETC.”
Machinima has had a rough few years. If anything, the goal of this NewFronts presentation was to tell the industry that the company is back to its old form. The company’s YouTube network currently has more than 30,000 creators, and altogether it reaches more than 170 million viewers per month across platforms.
Some of this success extends to platforms other than YouTube, Machinima added. Content from its Happy Hour channel as well as series like “Battlefield Friends” are being exclusively distributed on Vessel ahead of YouTube, and are generating high viewership on the emerging video platform.
“Machinima is the most notorious purveyor and cultivator of fandom and gamer culture,” said Gutstein, to drive the point home. “With our new slate, we are reminding our fans and our clients of one very important fact: Machinima is back.”
Defy Media returned to the Digital Content NewFronts touting perhaps the biggest project coming out of the YouTube ecosystem this year.
That’s “The Smosh Movie,” starring the YouTube comedy giants of the same name, which will premiere during VidCon later this summer. The film, described as a high-concept “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” for 2015, will also feature a number of other major YouTube stars, including Grace Helbig and Jenna Marbles, setting it up to be a major barometer of how well the YouTube ecosystem can do in the film business.
But as big as Smosh is — and they’re pretty big: 20+ million subscribers on their main YouTube channel and counting — what might have resonated the most with the advertisers in the audiences was how Defy Media president Keith Richman eviscerated the “produced-if-sold” model that has plagued NewFronts presenters (including Alloy Digital, which merged with Break Media to form Defy Media).
Talking about its social impact series “Prank It FWD,” Richman said: “We made ‘Prank It FWD’ without a sponsor at a significant expense… We had heard ad executives say, ‘If you believe in something, go out and make it. Go prove that it works’ — which we did, at scale.” The initial success of the series helped Defy land sponsor Barefoot Wine & Bubbly for later installments of the series, which has accumulated more than 100 million views to date.
“I’m sure you’ll go to other NewFronts and people will talk about the new content that they want to do,” Richman continued. “But we’re going to produce the content you’re going to see out there in the wild… The content you’ll see on your news feed or your kid’s news feed.”
In total, Richman said Defy will produce 30 series this year. But once again, playing to what might resonate with advertisers more, Richman said: “We could sit here and tell you about the great ideas we have for shows that will come out 10 months from now, but the likelihood you have an idea of what your budget will be like then…is very small.” Instead, Defy wants to build a relationship with advertisers where it can come in regularly and pitch them on the content programs it’s working on.
Here are but a few that Defy plans to release in the coming months:
Defy Media plans to grow the Smosh brand. It plans to launch “Every [Blank] Ever,” a new scripted format that will cover topics relevant to every millennial. With new episodes coming out on Tuesday, the new format also introduces four new Smosh cast members.
As for Break Media’s “Prank It FWD,” Defy is producing a special back-to-school edition of the program this summer, before bringing back another installment in time for Thanksgiving.
Another Break.com series, “Super Fan Builds,” was also showcased during the NewFront. The series, which averages more than 850,000 per episode, follows Hollywood prop-makers as they build various items inspired by comic books, video games, movies, and pop culture.
Defy Media’s men’s lifestyle channel, Made Man, presented three key series: “Gentleman Up,” a how-to series hosted by
Rob Riggle; “Speakeasy,” a celebrity interview series hosted by Paul F. Tompkins; and “Mantervention,” a new series that follows a host and subject-matter expert as they hold an intervention for a guy who’s been called out by his friends for one major faux-pas or another.
For Screen Junkies, Defy Media showcased the popular “Honest Trailers,” which is about to hit its centennial episode. Overall, Screen Junkies will roll out 10 new shows this year, including “Movie Fights,” in which a panel of film buffs fight it out over movies.
That’s not all. Defy’s entertainment and lifestyle channel, Clevver, was also briefly highlighted. Shows previewed include: “Beauty Break,” in which a team of hosts try out the most trend-worthy (and sometimes weird) beauty techniques; and “Daily Hollywood Rundown,” which covers the top trending stories in entertainment every day.
Overall, Defy talked up its existing production and distribution capabilities — both on and off YouTube. In 2014, the company hit 500 million views per month on all content that was produced in-house (and not by network partners). Its YouTube network, meanwhile, boasts more than 52 million subscribers, while its off-YouTube reach includes 1.2 billion visitors in 2014 for its collection of web and mobile sites.
“On a daily basis, Defy creates more content that more millennials see each day than anybody else out there,” said company CEO Matt Diamond. “When we create content, it also ultimately has to help you build the brands you’re building or sell the products you’re trying to sell… Whether it’s the shiny programming we do, or stable of programming we do on a regular basis, we believe we have the millions of viewers to help you accomplish your goal.”