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Winning at the Youth Content Game

Where MTV was once the reigning champion of content for the youth generation (in the 80s and much of the 90s and the early 2000s they were the source for all things Gen X and and Millenial), the post-Millenials represent an entirely new time. Born into a world fully fused with the internet, terms like ‘digital native’ and ‘participatory culture’ now give us a ‘Generation Z’ or as MTV has dubbed them, ‘founders.

Academic journals, media and tech industry articles, and pop culture pieces tell us that this generation (currently between the ‘tween’ ages of 6-12) is the first to be born with the technological tools at their fingertips; they have the potential to create, re-mix, contribute, and actively participate in online communities. They are watching TV but they want their content on demand and mobile. They are interacting on Facebook but are increasingly Instagramming and SnapChatting. They may or may not blog but they’re totally heading to Youtube to makeup application tutorials created by hosts their age, short comedic skits, sports and blooper highlights and videogame walkthroughs. Networks have long since known this was happening… but, as is often the case with large businesses, sometimes you’re just too big to be nimble to evolve quickly enough… and experimentation can come at a greater risk to your core business and overhead.

Enter AwesomenessTV, the online video content company and multi-channel network that has quickly gone from rookie status to a major contender in this space in the short span of 3 years. Launched in 2012, the company’s short history reads like a “How to Win the Youth Digital Content World Cup” playbook.

The company, which was born out of Youtube’s Original Programming Initiative, has over 150 million subscriber-fans and has generated over 17 billion lifetime video views of over 90 000 channels on its content roster. CEO Brian Robbins is a visionary coach type. The seasoned US film and TV producer created the company to provide ‘alternative’ streams of content as the young generation shifts their focus on new screens.

Let’s sneak a peek at AwesomenessTV’s playbook to see some game-changing strategy:

  • Team up with Verizon (the US’s largest wireless provider) in a deal to create 200 hours of original content in bite-size (under 10 minute segments) perfect for mobile viewing audience. Kick it off with an edgy series presenting a timely issue: online bullying and posting inappropriate photos online. Guidance the series cast Michelle Trachtenberg from Gossip Girl to play the high school guidance counsellor and sees a story that unravels bit by delicious bit.

  • Acquire a media/talent agency: Big Frame because you are going to be discovering, creating, and attracting current and future Youtube stars; you may as well cut out the middleman.

  • Get into the merchandised goods game by building a consumer products division around your content’s brands and personalities. And get the former CEO of costume jewelry monolith Claire’s who was also President of Disney Stores Worldwide, James Fielding to oversee it.

  • Make sure you cover every possible pop culture base by getting in the print game with books like Runaways and Side Effects, spun out of your web series. Partner with Hearst Publications (they bought a 25% stake) to draw from their expertise in the space.

  • And keep on running the plays you know and that deliver your core product and results: produce more content like sitcom Richie Rich, Project MC2 (which I’ll talk about in my next post) and partner with outlets like Nickelodeon, Netflix, Endemol (to reach an international audience) and others.

And in the digital space of content creation and distribution (where companies like Netflix withhold their profits and audience numbers), how do you know when your team has ‘won’?

A sale to Dreamworks Animation for $33 Billion is probably a solid indication that something’s going well.

As a long-time producer of children’s and youth TV, I’ve been lamenting for a few years the great decline of diverse content for tweens and teens such as sketch comedy shows, sports shows, documentaries and more… this is exactly the space that AwesomenessTV started to create content in: a great relief to anyone who believes that homogenization (in this case, the tween market flooded with Disney and Nickelodeon-style sitcoms and animated series) is a bad thing. Now, Canadian tweens and teens will get to check out AwesomenessTV content through a partnership with DHX Media and Family Channel in Canada!

Now, if we start incorporating some Canadian faces both behind and in front of the camera as part of this initiative… this will be a winning scenario for Canadian children’s content.

The days of young Youtubers operating as free agents may be over but storytelling is alive and thriving in this new digital landscape.

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