It pales in comparison in scope, cost and publicity when contrasted to the late 2012 purchase of “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” film franchise owner Lucasfilm Ltd. for $4.05 billion, but Disney made news by purchasing Culver City-based Maker Studios for $500 million on March 24. What’s more, the deal could reportedly be worth as much as $950 million to Maker, provided the studio “meets certain growth targets.”
On its own website, Maker bills itself as “a talent first, technology-driven media company,” as well as “home to online video’s top digital stars, channels and content.” Maker is also an extremely powerful presence on Google-owned YouTube, boasting a reported 55,000 channels, 380 million subscribers and 5.5 billion monthly video views.
Maker officially came into existence in 2009, when Lisa Donovan, founder of LisaNova (one of the first 50 YouTube channels partnered and monetized following Google’s $1.65 billion purchase of YouTube in late 2006), and her fiance/filmmaker, Dan Zappin, joined forces with other established online artists, including Shay Carl and Kassem G. The group soon launched Maker’s first channel, The Station (later rebranded as “Nacho Punch”), and drove online audiences there “to collaborate and operate with a talent-first mindset.”
Not long after that, Maker Studios rapidly expanded to include several sound stages and editing suites – along with millions of subscribers and billions of video views.
“Short form online video is growing at an astonishing pace and with Maker Studios, Disney will now be at the center of this dynamic industry with an unmatched combination of advanced technology and programming expertise and capabilities,” said Disney Chairman & CEO Robert A. Iger in a statement on the purchase.
The move somewhat echoes last year’s online teen network purchase made by former Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and his current massive studio, DreamWorks Animation SKG. That $33 million purchase of AwesomenessTV gave DreamWorks a thriving YouTube teen network that boasted 55,000 channels, 14 million subscribers and 800 million monthly video views at the time of the transaction. As part of that deal, AwesomenessTV founder and CEO Brian Robbins assumed an executive role at DreamWorks, with an eye toward developing a DreamWorks Animation-branded digital family channel.
“AwesomenessTV is one of the fastest growing content channels on the internet today and our acquisition of this groundbreaking venture will bring incredible momentum to our digital strategy,” Katzenberg said in the release. “Brian Robbins has an extraordinary track record in creating family content both for traditional and new platforms, and his expertise in the TV arena will be invaluable as we grow our presence in that space.”
One legendary old media publication, TIME, posited its belief that the high-dollar, new media purchase “could have huge strategic significance to the company’s long-term health.”
The TIME article went on to list five ways Disney may use Maker Studios to boost its overall bottom line and brand reach, and those methods ranged from recruiting fresh young creative talent to promoting its existing products and properties via new online channels to exorcising “past digital failures” that include its struggling Disney Interactive operation (which laid off 700 employees just over a month ago).
(No mention of the handful of abandoned Disney parks over the years, however.)
It remains to be seen just how Disney will utilize the powerful and wide-ranging platforms of Maker Studios and YouTube to promote, expand and diversify its brand and existing properties. No matter what happens, it certainly will be interesting to observe.
Both online and off.