VI Power-Sixer: UTA’s Brent Weinstein, the Chief Power Broker for Digital Stars
By Sahil Patel
If 2014 was the Year of the YouTube Star — and let’s be honest, it was — then it was also the Year of Brent Weinstein. The star UTA agent, recently promoted to partner at the Beverly Hills-based agency, benefited tremendously from the worlds of entertainment and advertising finally waking up to the world of YouTube.
To be fair, though, maybe no one should stand to benefit more than Weinstein, who’s led the charge for studios, advertisers, publishers, and content people of all types to work with digital talent. If video creators on social platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Tumblr are a big business today, that’s because of the work that Weinstein and his team have done, or at the very least supported.
“The thesis for our company has always been to work with people who are truly original voices,” says Weinstein. “Some of our earliest clients were the Coen brothers and Wes Anderson; today we represent Lena Dunham.”
In digital, however, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for talent to thrive in the early 2000s. The first internet bubble had just burst, interactive entertainment was largely confined to gaming consoles, and mobile phones weren’t as smart.
Things changed, naturally, when YouTube arrived. “We saw this whole new generation of creator coming out of the internet
in 2006,” says Weinstein. “It felt like the dawn of a new age and we wanted to be a part of it.”
“The YouTube ecosystem is unique in that most of the talent didn’t start out on this journey expecting to become a celebrity,” says Kelly Merryman, VP of content partnerships at YouTube. “And when they did, they needed a trusted partner who would…help them through this ever-changing and growing ecosystem.”
In October 2006, UTA officially formed its digital division, led by Weinstein, with the goal of identifying, signing, and representing digital content creators in all areas. “That was the beginning of everything we are doing today,” says Weinstein.
And today UTA and Weinstein do a lot. The range of opportunities available to “traditional talent” at one of Hollywood’s Big Three agencies are also available to online talent.
For instance, take book publishing. Up until last year, that was not a exactly an area that digital stars had much of a track record in. But seeing an opportunity to help clients who wanted to write books actually get them published, and at the same time access a previously untapped revenue stream, UTA launched Keywords Press. The goal of the imprint? To help online stars, whether they’re represented by UTA or not, write and publish books. To date, Keywords Press has distributed a number of chart-topping books from stars such as Shane Dawson and Zoella.
As much as UTA’s work with online talent is about helping them pursue their dreams, Weinstein and his agency have also been instrumental in bringing old media to new media — for instance, his work with VidCon.
“I had been going to VidCon since its early years,” says Weinstein. “When I went in 2012 — the first year it was held in Anaheim — a lightbulb went on: ‘Wow, this is a new Comic-Con. It’s going to be so big and so important to an entire generation of creators and consumers, and I want UTA to be a part of helping it get there.’”
Since then, UTA has been responsible for bringing many “non-endemic” sponsors and exhibitors to the annual confab, including Taco Bell, Best Buy, Canon, Kia, and Samsung.
Brent Weinstein’s proudest achievement to date is AwesomenessTV, the teen-focused company launched by filmmaker Brian Robbins in 2013. And why not? UTA had a huge hand in the company’s launch and growth.
“One day I get a call from my agent asking me to meet a YouTuber named Fred,” recalled Robbins during a recent speech at MIPTV. “I think to myself: Is my career over? I took the meeting because my son and his friends all knew him.”
That movie, which premiered on Nickelodeon, was a huge hit, and served as the catalyst for AwesomenessTV. “When Brian saw the power of working with Lucas, and saw the large passionate fan-base he has, he said: ‘Let’s do this at scale. Let’s create an entire network of shows like this featuring people like this. I give him 100% of the credit for having the courage and the vision,” says Weinstein.
But courage and vision alone don’t make a $325 million business. “We worked with Brian to develop a business plan,” says Weinstein. “In parallel, we went to YouTube and had conversations with them pretty early on in the funded channels process, and went to the VC world and began to raise money from that space.”
Though ever the agent, he’s also quick to credit the entire UTA team for the growth of AwesomenessTV, which it still represents today. “There was and always has been a fantastic team of people that have been involved in AwesomenessTV. We were advisors. We helped bring certain aspects of the business alive through deal-making and business development efforts. As with many clients we represent, we are blessed to be a part of it and excited to see Brian reap the rewards of a lot of his hard work.”
As inextricably linked as Weinstein is to the YouTube ecosystem, he has also ventured beyond the confines of the world’s biggest video site.
The agent oversees a good portion of UTA’s corporate advisory business — which includes work with major clients such as Universal Music Group and Delta — — and its venture capital arm. From the latter, UTA has made investments in multiple
“He deserves a lot of credit for developing UTA’s knowledge of and collaboration with the technology sector in LA and connecting the dots between digital and content in the agency world,” says Ranjan Goswami, VP of sales, Western Region, at Delta Air Lines, a UTA client.
It’s not surprising, though. Weinstein has always been a bit entrepreneurial. He even once left UTA to start his own company, the digital studio 60Frames. And even though that failed, it was another experience that helped him go from Jeremy Zimmer’s assistant to the first digital agent to be made partner at the agency.
“It feels like online entertainment has been a thing for a while. But we are still in the first few pages of a very long book,” says Weinstein. “Where do I think all of this is going? I’m not sure. The moment you fool yourself into thinking you have to have all of the answers is when you get paralyzed because it’s just not possible. What I’m focused on is working with the most talented and entrepreneurial people that I can.”