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DreamWorks into TV: Awesome and Classic

Brian_RobbinsIn diversifying away from movies, DreamWorks has made two key acquisitions, the multimillion dollar deal for digital producer and channel manager AwesomenessTV and US$155 million acquisition of Classic Media. AwesomenessTV founder Brian Robbins tells Stewart Clarke about becoming part of DreamWorks

Brian Robbins’ career has taken a different trajectory to that of many media executives. To viewers of a certain age he is remembered as one of the stars of ABC sitcom Head of the Class after which he stepped behind the camera, producing kids shows for Nickelodeon and series including Smallville.

Nick likely didn’t know when it was working with him on All That, a comedy sketch show, that a few years later it would be buying repackaged, cutting edge digital content from Robbins. But the kids net has been doing just that, topping and tailing AwesomenessTV content for its network. It has just ordered more episodes of its AwesomenessTV series, Robbins tells TBI.

Mimicking the super fast growth of successful digital firms, the sale of Awesomeness happened almost overnight.

Robbins says he met DreamWorks’ boss Jeffrey Katzenberg for breakfast on a Tuesday and had decided to do the deal by the afternoon of Friday the same week.

Having tied the knot with DreamWorks after their whirlwind courtship, Robbins is now looking at local language versions of Awesomeness and taking the brand, which is only just over a year old, international.

“I started Awesomness for two reasons really,” Robbins says. “I was watching my own kids and how they had stopped watching traditional TV and how drawn they were to mobile devices and computers and how they consumed what they wanted on these devices.”

The second reason was meeting Lucas Cruikshank, better known as YouTube teen star Fred, and teeing up a TV project with the online sensation at Nickelodeon, Fred: The Movie (which was released theatrically in some territories).

Robbins says: “I saw what this kid from Nebraska could do and that, along with thinking about the behaviour of teens and pre-teens, is when I first got the idea for AwesomenessTV.”

Robbins teamed with Google and YouTube as it prepared its partner channels initiative and Awesomeness now gets comparable or better traffic than, for example, Nick. More than half of its views are via mobile devices.

The cost of making shows for Awesomeness pales in comparison to those for a TV network – “we don’t have time for development” – but that is almost the point: the tweens watching are not after a TV experience.

“The big lesson for us has been that the stuff that feels more like TV is less popular. The highest quality scripted stuff was not the most popular. You need a combination of what’s native to YouTube and what you have on traditional TV.”

The Awesomeness founder talks about a prank sketch in which someone pretends to smash boxes of iPhone 5s in front of people queuing to get hold of the Apple handset. The team thought of it one day and shot it the next. It has almost six million YouTube hits.

“The price of failure is no big deal, it won’t financially break you,” Robbins says.

The YouTube channels model is not, however, an easy one to profit from, and brands need to also exist in other spaces.

Robbins adds: “The economics of just being on YouTube and surviving from ad revenues are very difficult. We managed to build a brand with YouTube and monetise IP in other ways outside of YouTube.”

By way of example, boy band Mindless Behaviour came to tween attention on Awesomeness, which made and released Mindless Behaviour: All Around the World theatrically. It then went out on DVD before being shown on Nickelodeon. DreamWorks started selling it to broadcasters at MIPCOM.

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The plan now is to take Awesomeness to a wider range of viewers. “We want to scale Awesomeness younger and older, from cradle to college,” Robbins says.

“ABC Family and The CW, that’s currently our demo, but we want to have preschool, kids and teen viewers,” he adds.

The next stage is local-language versions of Awesomeness, which has big fan bases in the UK, Brazil and Spanish-speaking markets among others. Robbins says of the plan: “We 100% have local language in our plans. We’re putting it in motion now, looking at which shows and when.”

Broadcasters could be forgiven for not overly celebrating the Awesomeness and they are unlikely to cheer its next move, into the international market. But AwesomenessTV is not (intentionally) setting out to take on kids and teen linear channels, at least according to its founder, who says its content is about “filling little spaces” while on the school bus or waiting in a movie queue.

In the first part of this interview series TBI interviewed Classic Media cofounder Eric Ellenbogen.