By Sahil Patel
Fullscreen is building an over-the-top video platform in an effort to distribute premium programming for millennials off of YouTube, multiple sources have confirmed to VideoInk.
It’s a move that is both unsurprising and inevitable for a company that — like others in the multi-channel landscape — wants to lessen its reliance on YouTube.
First reported by Tubefilter, details on the plans are scarce, as it’s not exactly clear whether the platform would be fully ad-supported, only subscription-based, or a mixture of both.
But it’s indeed in the works, and Fullscreen has already invested a significant sum toward it — in the low eight figures — according to people familiar with the plans.
But for Fullscreen, which stands as one of the biggest MCNs, this isn’t a new development. The company has been dropping hints and making moves that all point to building a house of its own.
It began last year when The Chernin Group led a Series A round reportedly worth $30 million. At the time, Fullscreen founder and CEO George Strompolos said the investment would help his company “accelerate [its] goal of building a global media company.” This would include “funding new content initiatives,” he said (or read another way, creating its own IP).
And what has Fullscreen done since then? Exactly that:
There’s “Takei’s Take,” a YouTube series the company co-produces with Portal A for AARP; an untitled feature-length film from The Fine Brothers fully financed by Fullscreen for less than $5 million, which represents the brotherly duo; and a music-reality series format developed in partnership with “Glee” executive producer Adam Anders.
And those are just a few of the projects Fullscreen has been working on, led by recently appointed head of content Ashley Kaplan, who by the way was hired to build out Fullscreen’s original content division and production capabilities.
That hasn’t been the only relevant hire, either. Almost exactly a year ago, Fullscreen named Tim Mohn SVP of engineering. Mohn is
known as the co-creator of HBO’s TV Everywhere play, HBO Go.
Then there’s this page that a tipster pointed us to. It’s a job listing for director of programming, licensing, and acquisition at Fullscreen. In the post, Fullscreen reveals that it’s “actively building plans to launch a premium content platform off YouTube for the very best digital content and creators today, specifically for 13–24 year old consumers.” The position is now closed. We have also heard that Fullscreen is shopping for a president of programming who would report directly to COO Ezra Cooperstein.
Then, this past January, Fullscreen acquired Supernova, the mobile startup behind the video-sharing app Viddy. At that time, Strompolos positioned the deal as a means for Fullscreen to tap into increased mobile video consumption, which at that point accounted for more than 40% of the network’s monthly viewership. “With the acquisition of Supernova, we are well-positioned to capitalize on this major shift in consumer behavior through rich mobile video content experiences,” he said.
Which is all well and good; any owned-and-operated platform worth its salt needs to be natively compatible on mobile and other connected platforms, too.
Unsurprisingly, VideoInk has learned that the team and technology that was “acq-hired” as part of the Supernova deal are involved with the development of the new platform.
In fact, sources independently tell us that Fullscreen has also been working on a channel for Roku’s connected-TV platform, and has already reached out to creators within its network to bring their content to the channel.
So Fullscreen is building an owned-and-operated video platform.
After all, an owned-and-operated business is very important to MCN Land, most recently exemplified by Maker Studios’ launch of Maker.TV. Aside from the inherent marketing value in building a successful consumer-facing brand, such platforms would also allow networks to command higher ad rates for their library of premium programming, as well as retain the revenue without having to give YouTube its customary 45% cut.
What makes Fullscreen’s off-YouTube play special, then? Aside from how much it’s invested in the project, maybe nothing. Maybe it’s just the same old story of an MCN attempting to venture beyond YouTube.
But then again, don’t forget that in April, The Chernin Group and AT&T formed a $500 million joint venture to invest in and acquire OTT video services.
There are no indications at the moment that The Chernin Group is involved in Fullscreen’s plans. But would you be surprised if it was? Or better yet, seeing a potential opportunity for additional investment or acquisition, doesn’t it make sense that Fullscreen’s OTT plans would coincide with when its lead investor is also actively chasing the OTT space?
And, maybe that’s the story here — that from the very beginning, The Chernin Group and Fullscreen have been bound to each other.
Additional reporting by Jocelyn Johnson