Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tastemade - My Interview & Studio Tour with CEO Larry Fitzgibbon of the Leading Food MCN

Tastemade is a leading MCN -- and is THE leading MCN focused on food, nothing but food.  The company’s mission is to be “Connecting the World Through Food.”  And investors have bitten -- to the tune of $25 million in their latest round led -- predictably (and smartly) -- by Scripps Networks Interactive (owner of, of course, the Food Network).  Mega-media companies Comcast (via Comcast Ventures) and Liberty Media also are investors in the company’s latest round (which is on top of $15 million previously invested).

Yesterday I drove down the street to Tastemade’s Santa Monica, California headquarters and studios and met with CEO Larry Fitzgibbon (the picture to the right is the unassuming exterior of Tastemade studios, which previously housed MTV).  Larry and I had previously crossed paths a couple of times -- while I at SightSpeed and he at CitySeach; and while I at Sorenson Media and he at Demand Media.  Demand Media is where Larry honed his chops for short-form video content.  After Demand Media’s IPO in 2011, Larry and his other co-founders used their recipe of best practices and mixed in key ingredients of experience, learnings (e.g., focus on a passionate target audience/vertical market and build a brand), expertise, and passion for food to bake Tastemade.  And, here we are.  (The picture below and to the left is one of several fully functioning production kitchens in the studio, this one being more urban and hipster-focused; while the picture further below and to the right is the kitchen typically used more for live audience demonstrations).

Larry shrugs off the label “MCN,” choosing instead to call Tastemade a “Modern” media company.  I mentioned to him that it was intriguing for him to use that word (“modern”), because that is a rarely used word in this day and age.  His response to that was equally intriguing -- i.e., “we are not a next-gen media company, because the audience has already migrated to digital platforms.”  Amen to that!  And, Tastemade’s content is developed natively for those digital platforms unlike content produced for the Food Network or other traditional platforms like television (that is then frequently ... and frequently clumsily simply carted ... over to digital channels).  Different strokes (content) for different folks (platforms).

And, here’s the interesting thing about Tastemade as opposed to many other major “MCNs” (yes, I am generalizing for ease of reference).  Most major MCNs have thousands of channels.  Not Tastemade.  Tastemade counts about 300.  And every single one of them -- every one -- is identified by pin, string, and individual profile on a massive world map on one main wall inside the company’s offices.  Yes, old world recognition by a new world “modern” media company for the old world art of cooking and food.

Here’s another one.  Tastemade’s app (which is really cool, by the way, you should try it out) enables anyone -- you, me -- to be a “foodie” and instantaneously and drop-dead easily make a beautiful professional video at our favorite restaurant while we order our food and enjoy our meal.  Everything is automated (editing, etc.) -- and you can also select music tracks to accompany your “rave” (not reviews, because reviews can be negative) of your food experience so that others can enjoy.  But here’s the punchline.  Every single prolific Tastemade raver has his/her picture and profile on that same Tastemade office wall in an old-world format (via post-its this time), so that the Tastemade team sees their audience, their users, all day, every day.  It is a great authentic reminder of what it is all about -- to connect the world with food! Bravo to Larry and his team for those nice human touches.

Tastemade now gets 18 million unique visitors per month and its core audience is, not surprisingly, 18-34 and about 60% female, with over 50% residing outside of the U.S.  This truly is an international play, because food travels well (at least digitally).  The company’s business model is, as expected, primarily ad-driven (including significant branded content and sponsorship opportunities).  But, the company -- like all other MCNs (and virtually every media company, period!) -- is also experimenting with paid content (via subscriptions and/or micro-payments for access) and ultimately with relevant commerce opportunities.

It’s only a matter of time until some big fish devours them ...

(The picture to the upper left is another interior shot of the studios, while the picture to the lower left is the bar used for viewers to learn about libations and where the Tastemade team will celebrate their inevitable liquidity event.)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

MCN 101 - A “Cheat Sheet” for Key Multi-Platform Video M&A, Strategic & VC Investments, Partnerships



The overall multi-platform video/media and multi-channel network (MCN) space continues 
to be white hot, with accelerating M&A, strategic and venture capital investments, and an ever-growing list of significant strategic partnerships.  Tough to keep up with it all, but my team and I at Manatt Digital Media follow the space very closely.  To help, here is a scorecard/“cheat sheet" of key representative (1) M&A, (2) strategic investments, (3) VC investments, and (4) strategic partnerships -- all in reverse chronological order (most recent first, so that you can get a sense of the accelerating pace, even during the purportedly slow-moving dog days of summer):


I.  MCN M&A

StyleHaul (the leading fashion-focused MCN) heavily rumored to be up for sale right now – potential buyers said to include Hearst, Conde Nast, Amazon and 21st Century Fox


Legendary Entertainment acquired Geek & Sundry (geek culture) in late July 2014 for an undisclosed sum

Otter Media widely rumored in late July 2014 to be mulling over taking a majority stake in leading MCN FullScreen for a sum reported to be between $200-$300 million (no updates since initial reports)


Relativity Media was widely rumored to have bid for leading horizontally-focused Fullscreen for an amount reported to be between $500 million to $1 billion in early May 2014 (since that time, Otter Media is rumored to be the leading contender -- as discussed above)


Disney acquired Maker Studios in the mid-March 2014 mega $500-$950 million deal that fueled and accelerated all of this year’s MCN activity

DreamWorks acquired AwesomenessTV for $100 million+ in the first major MCN deal in early May 2013

Consider all other major vertically-focused MCNs to be in “play” at this point, given all of the M&A activity (here are my predictions about likely M&A targets from a few months back).  


II.  MCN Strategic Investment

As opposed to M&A, this category represents major media companies who have taken significant equity stakes in (but not outright acquisition of) leading MCNs:


AT&T and The Chernin Group committed $500 million in April 2014 to fund the new Otter Media joint venture to acquire, invest in and launch OTT services (including leading anime-focused MCN Crunchyroll

Warner Bros invested $18 million in leading and pioneering young male and gamer-focused MCN Machinima in early March 2014 (just before Disney’s acquisition of Maker Studios)


AMC Networks invested $4 million in leading dance-focused MCN DanceOn in October 2013 (NOTE -- Manatt Digital Media is an investor in DanceOn)


III.  MCN Venture Capital Investment

As opposed to the strategic corporate investments discussed above, here are key multi-platform video/MCN-related venture capital investments:




Leading Latino-focused MiTu Networks raised $10 million from Upfront Ventures and existing investors mid-June 2014

Leading sports-focused MCN The Whistle raised $10 million ($18 million to date) from SeventySix Capital and “name brand” long-time media execs Bob DuPuy, Garry Laybourne, Bob Pittman in mid-May 2014

Tastemade earlier raised $10 million from Raine Venture Partners, Redpoint Ventures, Comcast Ventures in August 2013

Fullscreen previously raised an undisclosed 8-figure sum from The Chernin Group, Comcast Ventures, and WPP in June 2013

StyleHaul previously raised $17 million from Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, RTL Group, RezVen Partners 


IV.  MCN Strategic Partnerships

As opposed to outright M&A or investment, MCN growth also is fueled by strategic partnerships.  Here are a representative few:


FC Barcelona will use Dailymotion’s video player on their site and Dailymotion will launch FC Barcelona channel, dedicated to soccer (announced early August 2014)

Fox Sports Digital is partnering with Sporting News Media to share and swap libraries of editorial and video content (announced late July 2014)

Conde Naste launches pioneering brand-focused The Scene with content partners including AOL, ABC News, Forbes, BuzzFeed, Vox Media (announced mid-July 2014)

The Whistle announces continuous string of mega-content co-creation, co-distribution and co-promotion deals with the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, PGA Tour, AVP Beach Volleyball, Harlem Globetrotters (ongoing throughout 2014)

Maybelline announced a deal with StyleHaul in June 2014 for branded content in its YouTube channels (with StyleHaul videos also appearing in Maybelline’s content hub and on TV)

Leading media company Lionsgate and Freddie Wong’s RocketJump Studios agree to a multi-year film, TV and digital content alliance (announced April 2014)

Mediakraft and British Pathe announce a major content deal in April 2014 to bring 85,000 videos to YouTube from their historical film archives of to YouTube – 4/14

NOTE -- these certainly are key strategic MCN/multi-platform video “moves” -- but certainly not all of them.  

And, the action is still in its early innings ...

Leading video “pub” VideoInk also published this article, under a different name.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Outside Lands 2014 -- Day 3 -- A Review

Outside Lands 2014 is a wrap -- and, another amazing festival EXPERIENCE in every sense of the word.  This one was different for me -- my entire family joined.  That made it even more special -- music discovery to an even higher degree.  My Day 1 review is here -- and my Day 2 review is here.

How about Day 3?  Went back to the amazing Day 1 sunshine -- which meant that warmth permeated the day.  Conditions were ripe for new music.  So, while proven powerful artists like Killers and Tiesto anchored the day, the true impact came from the new.

That meant the Twin Peaks stage -- where we spent much of the day.  First, with Eminem-flow-like rapper Watsky -- who amazed.  And, then the follow-up 1-2 punch of Flume - perhaps THE artist the kids wanted to see.  While Flume played in the early afternoon, the Twin Peaks area buzzed (and overflowed -- this picture proves the point) like a headlining show -- which it could have been.  Was a great set.  Flume delivered on all the Coachella hype.  He crushed it.

But, back to Watsky.  HE was the star of the weekend for me.  Had never heard of him before.  Listened to his music before the weekend.  Liked it.  Now I truly appreciate his skills.  And he is skilled.  Very.  And original.  He is no wannabee.  Check him out.

Outside Lands -- a “must attend” music festival ....

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Outside Lands 2014 -- Day 2 -- A Review

What a difference a day makes.  As sunny as Day 1 was at the Outside Lands music festival (here is my review of Day 1), Day 2 chose to do “just the opposite” and wore nothing but shades of grey.  And cold.  Rather than skin, layers ruled the day on Day 2 (true to form for San Francisco in August).  Those of us who have been here before were ready for it.  Others, not so much.  But, so it began .... (The pic on the right is a scene with my kids, Luca and Hunter, at the Main Stage).

For me, Day 2’s line-up was the weakest of the 3-day mega-fest (although still absolutely first-class).  And, being a family of 4, we got off to a later than expected start, catching only the final song from the Dum Dum Girls as we entered the park.  From there we stayed, for the most part, at the Main Stage (departing radically from our Day 1 choreography) -- first catching The Kooks (who played the kind of set you would expect from them -- no surprises), then Local Natives (whose mellow vibe suited the day), to Haim (never a favorite for me, but here a revelation in terms of their rock and roll chops -- the band has real talent), to Death Cab for Cutie (a long-time favorite band of mine who performed as expected -- real professionals -- but ultimately didn’t play the one song I most wanted to hear -- “Transatlanticism”).

Too much mellow up to that point, so we finally ventured to the Park’s opposite end -- to the Twin Peaks stage to hear (and feel!) the opposite -- dance!  It was, after all, EDM time -- and Duck Sauce was an act high on our collective “intrigue” list.  And, they knocked it out of the park.  THIS was the highlight of the day for all of us.  Their humor -- the collective energy of the masses -- and the duck bills everywhere reminded all of us what festivals are all about.  Music discovery.  Community.  Just plain getting away from it all.  The two DJs, refreshingly, do not take themselves too seriously (unlike the 2 from Disclosure).  Crowd pleasers.  (The picture on the left shows the scene at Duck Sauce’s set).

And, there we stayed for the rest of the night (as did all others of the generation much younger than I) -- first catching EDM act Boys Noize on the smallest of the festival’s stages (the Panhandle, which overflowed with the masses coming from Duck Sauce) and then ending the evening with Macklemore (whom I have seen before, and whose set -- despite his dedication -- fell flatter than usual, especially when he sang his new collaboration “Arrows” with musician Fences, who clearly was new to the game and needs to learn showmanship from Macklemore ... which he undoubtedly will over time).  Nonetheless, Macklemore is a classic -- and, singing “Same Love” in San Francisco, complete with an on-stage live same-sex marriage, was magical.

We exited the park on the opposite end -- passing by Tom Petty on the Main Stage (which had been a difficult Sophie’s Choice) -- but with absolutely no regrets.

Another classic day with my wife and kids ... and with music ....

Here is our line-up for today:

Watsky
Lucius
Flume
Jenny Lewis
Lykke Li
Cut Copy
The Killers

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Outside Lands 2014 -- Day 1 -- A Review

Glorious first day at the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco yesterday.  This is my third -- and, where the previous 2 were cloudy/drizzly/cold (frigid, actually), yesterday’s day 1 was absolutely glorious.  Sun and warmth all day.  Clear skies and full moon all night.  Magical.

And, the music matched the mood with its own magic.

My wife, Luisa, and two kids (Hunter, 14 and Luca, 11) joined me this time -- and the magic for me was magnified by watching their first-ever mega-festival experience through their eyes.  I am a music guy -- always have been, always will be.  And, so are my kids.  They apparently inherited or absorbed this passion (nature? nurture?) and know their stuff.  They know it deeply (and I’m not talking pop music here).  And, we strategized together on who to see on Day 1.  Lots of debate.  Lots of compromise.

Here is a quick “hit list” of who we saw -- and how they did -- in order of appearance:

(1) Aer -- Twin Peaks stage (the second biggest stage) -- started the day with this upbeat and somewhat Sublime-like band from Boston best known for their song “Says She Loves Me” (you know it); perfect for a sunny day (beach, poolside); certainly no Sublime, but enjoyable and energetic; I liked them, so did Luca; Luisa and Hunter not so much.  Must be a guy thing.

(2) Phosphorescent -- Sutro stage (third largest) -- this seemingly mellow band (I know them best for “Song or Zula”) actually rocked harder than one would think.  Pleasant enough.  Worth a “drive by."  But not for the entire set when there is so much else to see.

(3) Holy Ghost! -- Main stage -- staying true to our eclectic ways, we next saw this electronic band; high expectations, very disappointing results.  No energy.  After a few songs, we were out.  Too many alternatives better on this day, especially ...

(4) Warpaint -- Twin Peaks ... especially when Warpaint was playing at the same time.  This 4 piece atmospheric rock band was a highlight of the day, and was definitely the right move (instead of Holy Ghost!).  I have liked this band for years -- have seen them several times (including a great set a couple years back on the one-and-done S.S. Coachella, and a not-so-great set this past Coachella).  This time they were “on”, which was especially surprising to me on this sunny day when their music is haunting and dark.  Great set -- magnified by the fact that my two kids met one of the two lead singers afterwards -- and, guest what, she was delightful!  (That is the scene in the picture above).  See this band.  Listen to their music.  Trust me.

(5) Grouplove -- Twin Peaks -- THE highlight of the day for all of us.  We last saw them poolside at an intimate set at Coachella.  Before that, I liked them.  After that, I had a new appreciation for them.  They are fun.  They are energetic.  They have great songs.  And, they perform them well.  Definitely crowd pleasers -- and wanting to please.  Perfect for this sunny day.  (Pic below to the left is of a family that loves music together, stays together!).

(6) Disclosure -- Main stage -- my kids in particular wanted to see them; and we all agreed, primarily because we needed to stake our claim on the turf for the upcoming Kanye headlining show.  Yes, we like some of Disclosure’s songs -- 2 apparent brothers, by the way -- but the electronic machinations became tedious to me.  But, we achieved our main goal -- we were right up against the stage -- and ready to go for Kanye immediately after.  So, verdict on Disclosure?  Miss it for the act itself -- make it if it sets you up for the next one.

(7) Kanye West -- Main stage -- ahh yes, Kanye.  Never seen him before (that is Yeezus himself in the upper right from our vantage point, in a pic taken by my creative son, Luca, on simply an iPhone!).  Never really wanted to.  But, that’s because I never really listened -- REALLY listened -- to his music.  I knew several songs, of course.  But, never really invested in it.  That changed the past several days, because my kids ingrained his songs into my head.  And, they absolutely are powerful.  Song after song.  So, all of us were excited for his show -- and we were right up front.  He started extremely strong with “Black Skinhead” -- my favorite track by far.  Compelling staging -- all alone on the stage with a full floor to ceiling screen of lights.  After that, for me, it steadily -- but slowly -- declined.  I started to lose interest when (1) he started to do his cliche Kanye “thing” of preaching his self-proclaimed Yeezus-ian world domination, and (2) he became downright tender when speaking of his family (I know, I am a family man -- and should love that.  But, this is Kanye.  Bring the energy!).  But, still, glad I saw him -- and I have a new appreciation for his music.  (Below is a blurred pic of the beautiful night-time scene during Kanye’s set).

We ditched just a bit early to beat the massive crowds -- something I recommend by the way!  Grabbed an Uber to North Beach.  Finished the night with two slices of some of the best post-show pizza you will ever taste (at Tony’s).

Today?

Dum Dum Girls
The Kooks
Jagwar Ma
Christopher Owens
Local Natives
Deer Tick
Haim -- ONLY because my kids insist!
Vance Joy -- my counter-programming to Haim
Death Cab for Cutie
Duck Sauce
Boys Noize
Macklemore -- yes, instead of Tom Petty -- a very difficult Sophie’s Choice for me ...

More later ...


Monday, August 04, 2014

5 Questions With VideoInk Founder Jocelyn Johnson - My Exclusive Q&A



VideoInk is an important new information resource for all things digital video.  This hot NYC-based digital publication describes itself as being “a Deadline/Variety for online video dedicated to breaking news and deals -- deal makers, deal mechanics, and deal outcomes, as well as critical reviews, CEO/company profiles, industry roundups, and big picture trend stories.”  For those in or circling anywhere around the world of digital video (such as me), VideoInk has become standard equipment to my day -- a regular companion with me and my coffee in the wee hours (both dawn and dusk).

Jocelyn Johnson founded VideoInk with deep focus and from an entrepreneur’s perspective.  She “gets” it, because she lives it.  She is a real entrepreneur.  Here are her answers to my five questions -- in her own voice -- and without any edits.  AND NOTE that, today, she turns the tables on me as well -- VideoInk today published my responses to their completely different set of 5 questions

(1) What is the reason your company exists (and what problem(s) are you looking to solve)?

Having worked with traditional Hollywood companies and the Hollywood trades, I saw that the online video industry was being held back by not having a dedicated trade that would surface the many, many deals that were being done, hold people and companies accountable for those deals, serve as a barometer of the overall health of the industry, and educate the next generation of executives climbing the ranks or breaking into this business. 

I also thought that this industry was starting to mature in a way that wasn't represented accurately by the 3 stories a week that Variety would file on "Digital". 

Most importantly, though, the money is on the periphery so how could brands, investors, and traditional Hollywood make educated investments if they had no real source of knowledge on the video business?

(2) How are you different from your competitors?

It's interesting because we don't really have a direct competitor, we're deeper and smarter on Digital than the traditional trades and we're 24 to 48 hours ahead of others on 90% of our stories. Since we launched in April, we also saw that our loose competitive set has been cut in half because we've hustled to really own this category. We've also been told that our newsletter is one of the only that our subscribers actually like getting in the morning. That just makes me beam, because it means we're doing what we set out to do - provide great value for this fast-growing community. 

(3) Why will you succeed (and what is your single most important ingredient for success)?

We'll succeed because we (my editorial director Sahil Patel and I) are invested in seeing this industry grow and we have seen that our work in 15 months has really had an impact and served as a daily resource in keeping everyone smart in their jobs. That is meaningful for us. We're also both very passionate about the digital video business. We're both fascinated by its immense growth. I've found it incredibly fun to watch the ebbs and flows over the years and can't wait to watch (and participate in!) the convergence of digital and "traditional."

(4) What makes you unique (and what do you enjoy most outside of building your business)? 

This might sound cliche but I think the fact that I have always been a "long distance" athlete - I swam long distance, I was also a long distance runner for years - caused me to be hardwired for hard work but more importantly patience, dedication, and for going the distance. Even though you're feeling like you're getting your ass kicked at times, Mile 1 is very different from Mile 2 etc but it's about staying strong and working the long tail while thinking about the short term means to the end. That mentality has definitely woven its way into my professional life as well as personal.   

(5) What digital media trend is most interesting to you (and what is the least)?

Most interesting to me is seeing the diversity of technology companies emerging in video in response to mobile and social viewing habits and how that will accelerate the collision of digital and Old Hollywood. But the biggest problem I wish we could solve already is the measurement issue - digital, mobile, TV are different beasts but there needs to be a baseline comparison for audience reach. The least interesting -- branded entertainment. ​

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Introducing O Labs - A Very Different Kind of Incubator (& JV of ICM, Manatt Digital Media & Originate)


Today is a very big day for us here at Manatt Digital Media -- something that has been a long time in the making.  Today, we officially unveil “O Labs” -- a new joint venture by (i) Manatt/Manatt Digital Media (i.e., the entire firm), (ii) leading talent agency ICM Partners, and (iii) leading software development firm Originate -- launched to create, nourish, grow, and operate innovative companies.  Manatt contributes business consulting and legal services to portfolio companies; ICM contributes sales, marketing, and branding expertise; and Originate provides product and software development talent.  And, all three partners will open doors for portfolio companies via their vast networks of contacts and relationships.

O Labs functions kind of like an “incubator,” but don’t call us one -- because our model breaks the mold.  As far as we know, there is nothing else like it.  No incubator brings such deep development resources and diversity of partners, expertise, and services.  Manatt Digital Media’s Hale Bogg, ICM’s Keyvan Peymani, and Originate’s Jeff Scheinrock comprise O Labs’ investment committee.

All three partners are passionate about innovation -- and our partners ICM and Originate are absolutely at the top of their respective games.  So, together, we have decided to put our money where are mouths are -- directly into the most innovative companies (and the entrepreneurs who created them).  We have already funded and is growing our first company -- Versus -- a platform for legal, real-money video game tournaments.  Check it out.  It is very cool.

We are thrilled here at Manatt Digital Media.  Even before this announcement, we believed we offered a completely unique 4-part value proposition to our clients: (i) business consulting; (ii) legal; (iii) venture capital; and (iv) deep industry contacts and relationships.  We can now add an important new fifth ingredient -- company creator and operator.

But, don’t call us an “incubator”!

Full press release is here.

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