VENN's Quest to Be the MTV of the Gaming Generation Starts Today
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
Helmed by gaming industry royalty and financed by a who's-who of gaming investors, the Video Game Entertainment and News Network (VENN) launches Wednesday. The free, ad-based network features live, 24/7 coverage on its website and a range of social media and connected-TV platforms.
VENN's home base is Playa Vista Studios in Los Angeles, where it boasts five sets comprising over 8,000 square feet. It will also broadcast out of New York City. The programming slate will include a variety of original content covering gaming, esports and music.
Welcome to VENN (Official Launch Trailer) www.youtube.com
VENN's co-founders and co-CEOs both have extensive backgrounds in gaming, which they've seen grow to a $150 billion industry. Ben Kusin's father co-founded Babbage's in 1984, an early video game retailer that eventually went public as GameStop. The younger Kusin worked at Electronic Arts and Vivendi Games before moving full-time into entrepreneurship and angel investing.
His partner, Ariel Horn, is a 4-time Emmy winner and considered one of the pioneers of esports, having applied lessons from his days at NBC Universal to his role as head of esports content at Riot Games. Horn has also developed esports projects for Blizzard Entertainment and Justin.tv, which would become Twitch.
In 2019, Kusin pitched his idea for a gaming-centered network to Riot Games co-founder Marc Merrill, who told Kusin that Riot's former head of production – Horn – had just pitched him on virtually the same concept. Merrill suggested that Kusin go meet Horn before he headed back to New York.
Ben Kusin (L) and Ariel Horn are VENN's co-founders and co-CEOs
"I went to the W in Hollywood," Kusin told dot.LA. "He was there taking another meeting, and he came over and I said 'Marc said we should meet.' We decided to lay out our own visions. I had mine; he had his. We were on the same track and we decided to start it."
VENN went on to raise $17 million in seed funding. Bay Area gaming fund BITKRAFT led the round, which also included Merrill, Irvine-based Blizzard Entertainment's co-founder Mike Morhaime, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Kroenke Sports (owner of the L.A. Rams and two L.A. esports teams, among other holdings), Beverly Hills-based family office Lifeline Financial Group, and L.A.-based investment group aXiomatic Gaming.
VENN wants to be the MTV of the gaming generation
The founders are captivated by the possibility of becoming the "MTV of this generation." They view gaming as a culture and lifestyle that has become ubiquitous among young people.
"Asking if someone's a gamer is like asking if they eat lunch," Kusin said. "It's hard for generations that didn't grow up in a gaming- and digital-first world to understand... Lots of young people derive their identity, validation and social circles from gaming."
"You create content that that audience wants and you build organic fandom," said Horn, "and we think that's the future of entertainment."
The Playa Vista studio is bedecked with over 1,000 square feet of LED tiles, a trove of fiber cables to beam gaming content from a variety of consoles both in-studio and remote, and a set that replicates what gaming streamers "are doing out of their bedrooms, so it should feel comfortable to them," Kusin said.
Some of VENN's shows are meant to embody the at-home vibes of gaming streamers
The control room allows the production team to operate cameras remotely, and the entire facility is an "NBA-style bubble." The company credits the many preventative measures with helping its staff stay COVID-free, despite an intense rehearsal and preparation schedule ahead of the launch.
Kusin described the VENN team of 70 full-timers and 70 or so additional production contractors as nimble and agile in a way that traditional networks cannot be.
"We're doing shit that networks would die to be doing right now," he said.
Among other shows, "VENN Arcade Live" is a daily variety show that celebrates "all things gaming and pop culture," hosted by James 'Dash' Patterson, who on Tuesday signed with talent agency CAA. "Guest House" is a two-hour program hosted by singer Chrissy Costanza that will bring in guest creators to "choose their own adventure" — which could include making food, building legos, or singing karaoke. And "The Sushi Dragon Show" is a talk show hosted by the eponymous streamer, who Kusin describes as "like Eric Andre on crack" (which, if you've seen Eric Andre, is saying something).
The Sushi Dragon Show Starring TheSushiDragon (Official Trailer) www.youtube.com
Sam Blake primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA
- The Videogame Entertainment and News Network Raises $26M - dot.LA ›
- Gaming Became One of the Hottest Form of Entertainment - dot.LA ›
Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.
Los Angeles is home to thousands of founders working day and often night to create a startup that's the next breakout hit.
Who are the most impressive L.A. founders? To find out, we asked our cohort of dozens of L.A.'s to VCs top weigh in.
Andrew Peterson<p>Andrew Peterson is the co-founder and former chief executive of Signal Sciences, a web application security platform that he founded in 2014 and <a href="https://dot.la/signal-science-snapped-up-for-775m-in-big-l-a-saas-exit-2647256430.html" target="_self">was acquired in 2020 by Fastly in a $775 million deal</a>. Signal Sciences protects web applications from attacks and data breaches for clients like Duo Security, Under Armor and DoorDash.</p><p>Prior to starting Signal Sciences, Peterson worked at Etsy, helping the online marketplace with international growth as a group project manager. Etsy <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/3056900/how-three-ex-etsy-employees-turned-their-old-employer-into-a-consumer" target="_blank">reportedly became </a>one of Signal Sciences's first customers. Peterson has also served stints as health information management officer at the Clinton Foundation and as a senior product specialist at Google.</p>
Ara Mahdessian<p>Ara Mahdessian is the co-founder of ServiceTitan, a SaaS product for managing a home services business.</p><p>The inspiration for ServiceTitan, Mahdessian's first company, came from watching his parents start their own businesses in building and plumbing, only to struggle with the logistics behind keeping them running, he <a href="https://www.inc.com/magazine/201906/emily-canal/servicetitan-immigrant-inclusion-diversity-best-workplaces-2019.html" target="_blank">told Inc in 2019</a>. Mahdessian and his co-founder Vahe Kuzoyan met while in college, and worked on several consulting projects before starting ServiceTitan, in hopes of aiding small business owners like their parents.</p>
Evan Spiegel<p>Evan Spiegel is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Snap Inc., the Venice-based company known for its app Snapchat. He's also one of the youngest billionaires in the world, launching Snapchat while still an undergraduate at Stanford. </p><p>SnapChat, the company's app, has recently been taking on rival TikTok <a href="https://dot.la/snap-spotlight-2649022645.html" data-linked-post="2649022645" target="_blank">with a new feature</a> and a program meant to attract creators to its platform. And it is been at the center of a larger national debate on the power of big tech. </p>
Spencer Rascoff<p>Spencer Rascoff is the founder of several companies, including dot.LA. He started his career as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, later leaving to co-found travel website Hotwire. After serving as vice president of lodging at Expedia, he went on to found Zillow, an online real estate marketplace that went public in 2011.</p><p>Rascoff's most recent project is Pacaso, a marketplace for buying, selling and co-owning a second home.</p>
Tim Ellis<p>Tim Ellis is the co-founder and chief executive of Relativity Space, an autonomous rocket factory and launch services leader for satellite constellations. He is the youngest member on the National Space Council Users Advisory Group and serves on the World Economic Forum as a "technology pioneer."</p><p>Before founding Relativity Space, Ellis studied aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California and interned at Masten Space Systems and Blue Origin, where he worked after graduation. He was a propulsion engineer and brought metal 3D printing in-house to the company.</p>
Travis Schneider<p>Travis Schneider is the co-founder and co-chief executive of PatientPop, a practice growth platform for healthcare providers. He founded the company with Luke Kervin in 2014. <br><br>The two have founded three companies together, including ShopNation, a fashion shopping engine that was later acquired by the Meredith Commerce Network.</p>
Luke Kervin<p>Luke Kervin is the other co-founder and co-chief of PatientPop. He is a serial entrepreneur — his first venture was Starbrand Media, which was acquired by Popsugar in May 2008. <br><br>Kervin and Schneider then founded ShopNation, and when it was acquired in 2012, Kervin served as the general manager and vice president at the Meredith Commerce Network for a few years before leaving to found PatientPop.</p><p>Kervin had the idea for PatientPop when he and his wife were expecting their first child, he told <a href="http://voyagela.com/interview/meet-luke-kervin-patientpop-santa-monica/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">VoyageLA</a>. They were frustrated with how the healthcare system wasn't focused on the consumers it was meant to serve. So in 2014, he and Schneider created PatientPop.</p>
- The Angelenos in Pharrell Williams and Jay-Z's 'Entrepreneur' - dot.LA ›
- Entrepreneur of the Year: Shivani Siroya - dot.LA ›
- Los Angeles' Tech and Startup Scene is Growing. - dot.LA ›
On this week's episode of Office Hours, you'll hear from Gregg Renfrew, serial entrepreneur and founder of clean beauty company, Beauty Counter. She also serves on the board of directors of Supernova, my special purpose acquisition company.
- Office Hours Podcast: Bill Gurley On Startups, Venture Capital and ... ›
- Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz on the Power of Brands and Barbie - dot.LA ›
- Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz on the Power of Brands and Barbie - dot.LA ›