Respawn: VENN Gaming Network Drops Its MTV Ambitions and Goes for 'Raw Contact' with Creators
Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake
VENN launched in August with the goal of becoming the "MTV of the Gaming Generation" but it turns out the gaming generation doesn't appear to want MTV. They want short-form content.
On Thursday, VENN announced a significant shakeup, shifting their content strategy from about 85% long-form shows to 85% short-form, which is cheaper to produce and offers near instant feedback, co-CEO Ariel Horn told dot.LA.
The company made the shift after securing $43 million in investment and a broad network of distribution partners. Those deals include one with telecoms company Nexstar — with its $5.3 billion market cap and nearly 200 TV stations — as well as a syndication deal with Microsoft's MSN platform and placement in the Roku Channel and on Samsung TV.
It was ready to go full throttle on their MTV-for-Gen-Z pitch, but after doing a round of focus groups and looking at its cost structure, it pivoted to focus on short-form platforms like YouTube and Twitch. The move, Horn said, reflects how gamers consume media.
As part of the pivot, L.A.-based VENN will be launching three channels on YouTube and collaborating more closely with creators that already have gamer followings.
"It's a humbling process, actually," said Horn. "You look at the editors that are making the most successful products on YouTube, and they're mostly younger folks that have grown up and lived in this environment. So for us, that's been a process, to look at those creators that are succeeding on those platforms and allowing them to do what they do and see the results."
For example, VENN will be developing a new interview show with Hector Rodriguez, whom Horn described as the "grandfather of 'Call of Duty'." Rodriguez, who started esports company Optic Gaming in 2006, has nearly 1 million subscribers and over 150 million views on his YouTube channel.
"I thought we could take long-form and chop it down into short-form platforms," said Horn, a four-time Emmy winner who previously developed esports strategies for Riot Games, Blizzard Entertainment and Justin.tv, which became Twitch. "But what I realized is that each platform needs its own bespoke attention to detail."
For VENN, that will mean focusing more on things like video titles, thumbnail photos and metadata as it shifts away from studio-quality fare toward less-polished, user-generated content (UGC).
Rather than shooting long-form content from its Playa Vista studio and cutting it down into short-form bits as initially planned, VENN will now prioritize creating short-form, some of which will be shot in the studio, and then cobbling it together for distribution across its various channels.
"We learned that we must focus our energy on creating engagement and growth on those short-form platforms where gamers are primarily consuming now," Horn said. "The audience is not necessarily looking for higher production value but more direct, raw contact with the creator."
Also motivating the new strategic direction are the cheaper cost of creating short-form video and the promise of more immediate user feedback.
Shooting live, long-form content can be expensive because of the manpower and overhead costs like studio space. The new strategy will allow VENN to make more content for less.
"With our long-form focus, we were able to produce three days' worth of content (per week)," Horn said. By removing some of the production polish, leveraging UGC and reducing the amount of staff needed per product, VENN will be able to produce five days' worth of content at a cheaper cost.
Thanks to the data that YouTube and Twitch provide, VENN will also be able to get more real-time feedback on what viewers are responding to than they can get through cable and connected TVs like Roku, Samsung TV and Vizio.
Horn doesn't think the top line will take a hit.
"I don't think that very much changes from an advertiser's perspective," he said.
VENN still has aspirations to become a "lifestyle" brand at the nexus of the increasingly overlapping worlds of gaming, sports, music and fashion. But to get there, it will be narrowing its focus for now.
"It's a reality of a startup that you have to make some bets where you know there are narrow bands of fandom and where you know how to market to them very specifically," said Horn. "We're willing to take as long as needed to build (the lifestyle brand). We're here for the long run."
- VENN Gaming Network Raises $26M and New Distribution ›
- VENN Launches 24/7 Gaming Coverage - dot.LA ›
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Ceres Group Holdings is becoming corporate America's biggest cannabis dealmaker out of its Century City offices.
The venture and private equity firm this week announced that its special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, would take Atlanta-based cannabis producer Parallel public in a merger that will value the Canadian-listed company at $1.88 billion.
Parallel has about 42 retail stores outside of California, but has big plans for a big expansion into L.A. sometime in the next year or two.
Joe Crouthers is the CEO of Ceres and head executive of the SPAC that bought Parallel.
As Thanksgiving approached, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti implored residents to stay home and halt all nonessential travel as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed.
But on Thanksgiving Day, Peter Pham, one of L.A.'s most prominent early-stage investors and the co-founder of Science Inc, a Santa Monica startup studio and early-stage venture fund that manages over $100 million and recently launched a $310.5 million SPAC, posted a selfie of himself atop Las Vegas' High Roller ferris wheel.
He was clutching a can of Liquid Death, the bad boy-themed canned water brand that has improbably become Science's buzziest startup. Pham guzzles six cans a day, because he says he does not trust municipal tap water.
"I'm not afraid of dying," Pham told me recently. "There's risk for everything and COVID is a risk that I feel very confident in my ability to deal with. I could be wrong and that's OK. I am OK if I fucked up and I die from it."