Behind the Money: Allen DeBevoise, The Godfather of Online Video

/ Sep 12, 2013

Allen Debevoise

You might say that Machinima CEO and prolific new media investor Allen DeBevoise has digital content creation in his blood. Way back in 1996 — when there were only around 100,000 websites, Netscape Navigator was the web browser of choice and Google didn’t even exist — DeBevoise was tapped by cable provider TCI Internet Services to head up a new division focused on investing in “interactive online programming.”

To Explore Strange New Business Models

As head of the newly-formed TCI Interactive, he was tasked with developing content that would run on TCI’s “fast” new cable modem service — quite an ambitious goal when the majority of people in the country were still using slow dial-up connections. Even more ambitiously, the content was meant to run on a portal called @Home, a joint-venture between TCI Interactive, Cox Communications, and Comcast. (Think Hulu before Hulu — or the now-defunct VOD conglomerate Canoe, before it became Canoe).

That past experience spent brokering deals with niche content-creators, on unproven technology, with multiple hands in the pot, would seem to make him a perfect captain to helm Machinima, the gaming-centric online video creation, curation, and monetization powerhouse. But if you ask DeBevoise, his new media geek pedigree goes back even farther. “I used to work in the computer animation world,” he says, with a knowing laugh. “In the early days, I worked on the original ‘TRON.’”

It’s that background — and that approachable demeanor — that makes DeBevoise a successful CEO and an atypical new media investor. Under his leadership, Machinima has grown into a property that has attracted well over four billion YouTube video views, over 8.4 million subscribers, and content distribution, development, and advertising deals with companies like Warner Bros., Microsoft, and SyFy. And with investments in hot online video companies like Tastemade, AwesomenessTV, and Epoxy, he’s hoping to shape the next generation of industry game-changers.*

To Seek Out New Media Properties

DeBevoise has invested in nearly a dozen digital content companies, as well as a handful of non-media startups like CreditPing and LovingEco. When asked what he looks for in potential startups, it’s clear that he’s as attracted to the idea of business incubation in digital content, and seeing the marketplace evolve overall, as he is about specific companies.

His investment in StyleHaul, for example, came because the MCN was “growing like crazy,” it “had a great team,” and it felt like “a real breeding ground for great brands to grow on YouTube.” With ZEFR, it was the video content tagging and clipping service’s “different business model” that was appealing, and with DanceOn, it was the undeniable appeal of dance. “From gaming titles, to movies and TV shows, to online viral video, dance is a phenomenon and a successful category across mediums,” DeBevoise says. “That’s why DanceOn attracted investors like me … and Madonna.”

When pressed for more tangible, consistent investment qualities, DeBevoise says it usually comes down to the team. “It’s always about the team and how they want to do things,” he says. “It’s fun for me to be able to work with these companies and help, so I want to know and like how they think about things.”

DeBevoise is part of a crop of new media investors with “old media” backgrounds that understand and aren’t afraid of the fact that content typically has a longer monetization cycle than tech platforms. Unsurprisingly, the growth is focused in LA and NY, and he says other investors like Greycroft’s Mark Terbeek, Redpoint Ventures’ Dean Gilbert, and Raine Ventures’ Gordon Rubenstein are helping to fuel the bi-coastal deal flow.

To Boldly Go Where Other Investors Haven’t Gone Before

Still DeBevoise’s quest to help build the new Hollywood ecosystem doesn’t just revolve around external investments — he is still focused on guiding Machinima to its next stage of growth. That means continuing to license and develop premium content like “Halo Forward Unto Dawn,” diversifying off of YouTube, and even launching a subscription-based service. Naturally, the company is in the process of raising funding to support the expansion.

Bold plans require deep pockets, so the money hunt comes as no surprise. But while Machinima is arguably a company that makes both content-creators and VCs googly-eyed when they think about potential YouTube success, there have been some rumblings that DeBevoise and team are seeking investment because they can’t quite figure out how to monetize.

When asked about the rumors, DeBevoise openly acknowledged that the company doesn’t have all the answers — and that Machinima’s revenue pipeline is a work in progress. “We think we can create a global entertainment brand that’s highly profitable, with a mixture of different types of content and different revenue models to get us there,” he says. “It’s kind of a brand new day for us all right now. We’re in the midst of this amazing time where lots of different kinds of business models and companies can emerge.”

It’s seemingly that blend of candor, optimism, and business acumen that makes him one of online video’s most sought-after new investors. And if his vision for the marketplace evolution comes to fruition, it will certainly make him one of the most successful.

* Full disclosure: Allen DeBevoise is an investor in VideoInk.

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