MCNs — Why Do They Matter?

/ Aug 26, 2014


I write a lot about the multi-channel network digital video world. And, I follow it closely. Why? Is it because I think MCNs are the only relevant players in the new world video ecosystem?

Of course not!

Rather, I follow them so closely because the rise of MCNs — and the massive M&A and investments in those companies — are key data points for the overall digital “movement.” Of the fundamental transformation of Hollywood. And, of the fundamental transformation of the overall media business. MCNs represent the new multi-platform media world that we had anticipated for years, but finally came into its own in a mainstream way just this past year.

It is here. It is now. Consumers “get” that. Especially millennials.

But do the major “traditional” media companies? Do the big brands? Do you?

Certainly not to a significant degree — and that is at their and your peril (if you fall into that camp). I recently wrote about this after attending my first VidCon.

Core to this transformation is the mobile device — a device that is with most of us (even non-millennials) virtually 24/7. Now high-quality video is available to consumers virtually any time, anywhere — and we are voraciously eating it up (to the pleasure of the carriers and their data plans). The bottom line is that different platforms are optimized for different forms of content. And the vast majority of video consumption on the small screen is of “bite-sized” short form video. That means that premium content development for that small screen is fundamentally different than it is for traditional longer-form video platforms like TV. That requires specialized expertise. Expertise that most traditional media companies don’t have.

That’s where MCNs fit in. They don’t supplant traditional platforms. Rather, they expand them. They enable consumers to consume the full spectrum of entertaining, informative, and impactful video content. The mobile platform — that small screen — is finally ready for prime time. Scratch that. It isn’t just ready — it is here — it is now.

What else?

Our multi-platform media world — in which consumers demand these new forms of premium content (after all, they are “voting” by their sheer numbers) — also demands “personalities” who can speak most effectively to the massive young audience that has shifted much of its content consumption downstream. And that personality isn’t the mainstream celebrity. Rather, because these “bite-sized” videos ideal for mobile viewing are typically produced on very low (or, more usually, non-existent) budgets, they are grass-roots-driven (at least initially). They began with people like you and me (well, not me, I am not in that demo). And some of these grass-roots videos and personalities take hold — for some reason — and rise to the top. Somehow some of them rise above the din. It is these YouTube personalities who are the new “celebrities” for millennials.

A recently published study confirms that reality. YouTube celebrities are now more popular than mainstream celebrities to US teens. Think about that! Brands — you better. If you want to reach this key burgeoning demographic, then you must — RIGHT NOW! — shift significant marketing funds to the YouTube economy. To MCNs. To YouTube “celebrities.” To Viners. Play time is over. It’s time to go “in” big. And, with these digital platforms, you have the added benefit of being able to reach and pinpoint the precise “right” audience for your messages. Then it is up to you to engage with them, effectively.

And that takes “authenticity” — a word that is foundational to this new world order. YouTube personalities rise — MCNs rise — and brands effectively rise — only with authentic voices.

Take some of the leading MCNs.

I recently profiled #1 dance-focused MCN DanceOn and its founder/CEO Amanda Taylor. Why did she start DanceOn in the first place? Fundamentally, because of her love of dance! Because she already was helping professional dancers expand their opportunities because she was aware of their challenges. She felt their pain.

I also recently profiled Larry Fitzgibbon, founder and CEO of #1 food-focused MCN Tastemade. Why did he start Tastemade after his successful IPO of Demand Media (which he also founded)? I’m sure he had already made some significant cash — so it certainly wasn’t all about the dollars. Rather, when I met with Larry, he started our conversation talking about his love of food. Of the beauty and creativity of food and cooking as an art form. And of the international bridging of cultures that food makes possible. That is authentic! (And very, very cool).

That same authenticity is pervasive by essentially all founders and CEOs in the MCN world, several of whom I have come to know well (and some of with whom I have the good fortune of closely working).

Founder/CEO John West of #1 sports-focused MCN The Whistle? Absolutely — love of sports — believed that millennials deserved their own voice of sports. Not their father’s ESPN. Roy Burstin, founder and CEO of Mitu Networks, the #1 Latino-focused MCN. Same story.  Roy — from Colombia — “felt” the dearth of compelling video content for the Latino market (which he tells me has higher mobile consumption rates than other cultures). Stephanie Horbaczewski, founder/CEO of #1 fashion-focused MCN StyleHaul? Again, the same. You can feel it by the faux-furs she wears around her neck at events, even in the summer!

And then there’s Allen DeBevoise, chairman of the #1 gamer-focused MCN Machinima and the godfather of the MCN world in general. Allen is such an authentic believer in this new world order that he personally has invested in virtually all of these (and more).

THAT’S why MCNs matter. That’s why I follow them and the entire multi-platform media/video world so closely.

And, that’s why I am excited about the massive opportunities in (and privileged to be in) the media world that is now transforming in fundamental ways right before our eyes.

Let’s be clear. It’s not “out” with the old. But, it is absolutely about “in” with the new…

Check out more of Peter Csathy’s thoughts on the digital media space at the Digital Media Update.

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