With a rumored price tag of $500 million the Walt Disney Company has closed a deal to acquire seminal Multi-Channel Network, Maker Studios. An iconic media brand with a storied history Disney has made as many headlines in recent years with its acquisitions as it has with its creative output. The past decade has seen Disney acquire everything from Pixar to Star Wars, Marvel Comics to the Muppets. This week Disney takes another giant step toward annexing millennial childhoods by bringing Maker, one of the largest and oldest MCN’s into the fold.
The structured deal will bring Maker into Disney as a semi-autonomous unit, the details have yet to be spelled out but according to published reports Maker will not be folded into any existing division of the company. Instead is assumed Maker will continue to function as a creative studio providing Disney with its accumulated expertise in navigating the YouTube landscape. Thus far Disney’s forays into the interactive media market through haven’t been hugely successful. Disney Interactive, the company interactive gaming arm recently announced the layoff of some 700 employees after a series of failed interactive product launches last year. It’s likely that Maker will serve to fill some of the gaps in Disney’s digital media toolbox. That was the case when DreamWorks Studios acquired AwesomenessTV a smaller, teen oriented MCN which has since become a cog in DreamWorks’ larger marketing machine.
Maker itself is not without its problems. The company is involved in ongoing disputes with former top-tier talent Ray William Johnson who split acrimoniously with Maker last year amidst threats of lawsuits. The company is also involved in a legal dispute with founding partner and former CEO Danny Zappin who alleges he was duped into leaving his post by Maker’s form Chairman and current CEO Ynon Kreiz, the rumored architect of the Disney deal. However, along with its legal baggage Maker also brings with it its own recent acquisition, online video start-up Blip. The purchase of Blip by Maker was once thought to be the first move in a strategy to create a viable alternative to YouTube’s current stranglehold on the online video industry. With Disney’s considerable resources now married to Maker, that possibility maybe closer at hand than originally suspected.
Also in question is what this deal will mean for Maker’s existing talent and programming. The network is home to top-tier YouTube creators including Toby Turner, Bart Baker, and founding partner Shay “Shay Carl” Butler. The Disney media empire is vast and there could be significant opportunities to integrate existing Maker creators and even provide greater exposure to “mainstream” audiences. However, some industry watchers have speculated that existing projects and talent may be pushed aside in favor of an agenda that focuses more on new production and promotion of existing Disney programming. However, unlike AwesomenessTV, Maker is larger and almost entirely geared toward production of original content lending credence to the theory that it will serve as a creative incubator rather than a niche internal marketing consultancy.
Regardless of the final details the Maker deal is a represents a significant endorsement of online video by mainstream media. With ad revenue from video in steady decline it is unlikely that Disney would acquire Maker purely as a profit generating engine. Instead the $500 million move suggests that Disney wants to have a solid foothold in the frontier of digital media. Despite its still unproven business model multi-channel networks have managed to convince the world of legacy media of their value. Some will certainly object to the ever increasing corporatization of the online video industry. Maker was, after all, born out of seminal YouTuber collab channel The Station giving it a tangible link to what many regard as the freewheeling golden age of the YouTube ecosystem. Its rise has been synonymous with both the creative successes and structural failings of the MCN model. However, the marriage of Maker and the Mouse means that Disney’s substantial resources and corporate ingenuity will now be applied to engineering a version of the multi-channel network that is both profitable and sustainable.