*This story has been updated from its original version.
As they near the saturation point in the U.S. digital media market, L.A.’s online content firms are seeking to grow by expanding to overseas markets and looking to distribute content through more channels.
Video game-focused Machinima of Burbank announced last month that it would expand to China, while youth-oriented AwesomenessTV signed a production pact in July with United Kingdom broadcaster ITV after expanding to Europe in October.
Kin Community of Santa Monica also received $13.5 million from Tegna Inc., the McLean, Va., broadcaster spun off from Gannett Co., in June 2015 to expand its female-lifestyle focused brand to Australia and the U.K. The deal will see the two firms collaborating closely on content creation and distribution.
“We have an opportunity to do internationally something that’s a little different from what we’ve done in the U.S.,” said Michael Wayne, chief executive of Kin Community, noting the crowded field of competitors at home. The company represents YouTube stars, including cooking show hosts Hannah Hart of “My Drunk Kitchen,” and Rosanna Pansino of “Nerdy Nummies,” and connects them with corporate sponsors. Some of the brands it works with include Samsung and PepsiCo Inc.
The international growth is being driven by what’s seen as an opportunity to acquire vast new audiences and global scale coveted by advertisers.
Still, these digital media companies won’t find international expansion easy as they navigate various cultures, regulations, and advertising industries, said Peter Csathy, chairman of L.A. consultancy Creatv Media.
“There may be fewer numbers in terms of competitors (in foreign territories), but it’s also smaller markets,” he added.
Media companies are nevertheless optimistic and see opportunity to sell sponsored video deals across borders.
“Where it gets really interesting for us is three to five years from now,” said Wayne. “If we can go to international brands like P&G or Coca-Cola and say, ‘Listen, we can take one of your global brands and execute it in the top 10 markets,’ that will get brands excited because they are working with local creators and local audiences.”
Born in the USA
Kin Community, Awesomeness, and Machinima are among the dozens of multichannel networks that got their start representing thousands of YouTube stars to advertisers in the United States. That business helped the digital media companies rack up huge audiences – and deep connections with advertisers.
Kin Community’s roster of stars collectively rack up more than 600 million monthly video views across all video streaming sites, while Awesomeness video creators tally nearly 1 billion views, and Machinima talent claim 4 billion.
Over time, these companies’ business models have grown to include original content production across a wide range of platforms. While YouTube dominated the early days of digital video, Facebook, Snapchat, and video-game focused Twitch are now major players.
Some companies, Awesomeness among them, even finance more traditional types of content. The company, soon to be a division of Comcast Corp. as part of its acquisition of Awesomeness’ majority shareholder DreamWorks Animation, adapted its YouTube sketch comedy sensation “Smosh” into a show for Nickelodeon and produced the feature film “Smosh: The Movie.”
Machinima has struck mobile distribution deals with Verizon Wireless, Sony Corp., and Comcast.
“The biggest obstacle that everyone in this (online video) space faces is the over-crowded playing field,” said Csathy. “Every single one of these companies now is developing their own premium content. There is a lot of competition for consumers’ attention.”
Awesomeness started distributing content outside the United States as part of a multiyear agreement with Endemol Shine Group last October. The content is hosted on Awesomeness-branded YouTube channels in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, and elsewhere. The channels include original local-language content, as well as adapted existing Awesomeness shows adapted for the resident market. Last month, the company also signed a deal to distribute its shows on UK television through British broadcaster ITV.
Finding the right content mix for each country has been important part of Awesomeness’ international growth, said Kelly Day, the company’s chief digital officer.
“Some kinds of content resonate better in certain markets than others,” she said. “Big scripted series resonate better for global distribution and some of the lifestyle and reality series programming a little less so. Some countries favor more American-feeling content than others.”
For Machinima, it was important to find a foreign market with the highest demand for its video game-focused content. To that end, the company signed an exclusive distribution deal with internet company Sohu Inc. of Beijing this month to distribute its content in China, where YouTube is banned.
“China is the No. 1 territory in the world for video game content,” said James Glasscock, senior vice president of strategy and business development at Machinima. “Culturally, it’s a very different territory in terms of deal making and approach, but they were very hungry for the Machinima brand.”
Hunger for content abroad has also led Machinima to sell its content on a subscription video on-demand platform in Spain, which is run by AMC Networks International Iberia, a Madrid-based television broadcaster.
Machinima looks for partners that know their local markets well and have a local advertising sales organization in place, said Glasscock. The company is led by Chief Executive Chad Gutstein. Its chairman is Allen DeBevoise.
“With AMC, they know their market and their customers better than we ever could. AMC is leading sales and operations locally," said Glasscock. “There’s no way we could lead that locally without setting up an office.”
That’s been a fruitful strategy for Kin Community as well.
The company launched in Canada through a partnership with television broadcaster Corus Entertainment Inc. of Toronto in 2014. Corus represents the firm to advertisers and helps source and develop Canadian talent. Kin Community is setting up operations in Australia through Allure Media of Sydney and looking for a partner to establish operations in the U.K.
As the company reels in more creators in these countries, that should in turn help Wayne and co. expand their roster of advertisers in those locales.
“Brands like to target the market that they are in,” said Wayne. “Canadian brands want to work with Canadian creators.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misnamed Machinima's senior vice president, James Glasscock.
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