Following on the heels of last weeks watershed announcement that Disney would acquire seminal Multi-Channel Network Maker Studios the MCN landscape shifted again today with the of another major acquisition. Teen centric network AwesomenessTV, would acquire talent focused boutique MCN Big Frame for approximately $15 million. AwesomenessTV was itself the subject of an acquisition deal last year which brought the MCN under the umbrella of Dream Works Animation. The Big Frame deal represents the next step in what appears to be an industry wide trend toward consolidation and integration.
Big Frame, founded by Sarah Penna and Steve Raymond, has often been described as the gold standard for Multi-Channel Networks for its focus on developing talent and building brands rather than scale. It’s roster of 282 partner channels is small compared to competitor networks like Fullscreen (28,210) Machinima (10,701) StyleHaul (2,172) and AwesomenessTV itself (81,760). However Big Frame is home to stop YouTube talent like Tyler Oakley, Miranda Sings and Sawyer Hartman, and Penna’s own husband Joe aka Mystery Guitarman. Unique among MCN’s, however, the network also boasts a roster of increasingly mainstream crossover stars like rapper Destorm Power, actor/comedian Jimmy Tatro, and beauty vlogger Ingrid Nilsen aka MissGlamorazzi. Big Frame has been praised by creators and industry press for its focus on building out content verticals and brokering mutually beneficial brand deals for its creators.
Over the last year MCN’s have increasingly come under fire for their expansive memberships and the lack of genuine services provided to lower tier partners. In 2013 YouTube went so far as to insert itself into this ongoing dispute by forcing MCN’s to categorize their partners as either “managed” meaning those receiving actual development and representation, or “affiliate” the lower tier partners for whom the MCN merely acted as a middleman to negotiate more favorable CPMs. The move was designed to curb the practice of inflating a network’s subscriber and view counts, as well as CPM revenue, by taking on thousands of partners for whom they provided no meaningful service.
It is worth noting that while Big Frame has typically been given high marks for its partner focused approach by creators and industry press AwesomenessTV has been cited as one of the worst offenders when it comes to partnership inflation. None other than Phil DeFranco, a well-known online video entrepreneur and Penna’s former boss, went so far as to call out the massive MCN in a 2013 video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-91G1ZlWmo8) DeFranco points to AwesomnessTV’s push-button partnership program which allows creators to sign a legally binding partnership agreement with a few clicks. DeFranco’s claim that naïve, and often very young, content creators are misled into signing away a portion of their ad revenue in exchange for services that they could obtain for themselves is one of the most persistent arguments lobbed at the MCN business model.
The merger, which will include the retention of Sarah Penna, Steve Raymond, and the Big Frame leadership team, will combine Big Frame’s partner focused approach with the massive roster of AwesomenessTV and the equally massive resources of parent company Dream Works Animation. It remains to be seen how the two network’s very different operational cultures will integrate. In the past AwesomenessTV has been successful in striking larger deals with mainstream media, the most visible of which is the partnership with Nickelodeon which brought AwesomenessTV talent to television. Such cross-platform outreach is definitely in Big Frame’s wheelhouse. However it will be difficult to bring Big Frame level partner development to AwesomenessTV scale.