Under general manager Russell Arons, Machinima is focusing on its gamer audience with a slate of programming for digital and traditional platforms.
Warner Bros. is revealing a rebrand of Machinima after spending more than a year quietly integrating the studio into its Digital Networks division.
Machinima general manager Russell Arons on Wednesday debuted a sleek new Machinima logo, which does away with the red and black palette for a refreshed green M, and a renewed focus on serving content to the gaming community.
The gamer audience, Arons tells The Hollywood Reporter, "is an area that is, especially for Warner Bros., a prime target." She adds that it is a valuable group for the studio behind Justice League and the upcoming Tomb Raider because they are the viewers who have largely abandoned traditional cable and theatrical releases in favor of programming featuring digitally born talent. "The motivation for our rebrand is that we are really positioning ourselves to be at the intersection of gaming culture and entertainment," she says.
Machinima was born out of YouTube's early heyday, building a network of creators focused on producing video game content for their fans. But the company struggled to find its footing as a so-called multichannel network, ultimately conducting several rounds of layoffs and bringing in Chad Gutstein, an executive with a Hollywood pedigree, to replace co-founder and CEO Allen DeBevoise.
While many of its peers — Maker Studios, AwesomenessTV, Fullscreen — sold to larger media and entertainment companies, Machinima remained independent for a number of years. Warner Bros. had invested several times into the business, beginning with an $18 million investment in 2014, but held off on acquiring the company outright until November 2016. The deal was said to be valued at a discount of Machinima's one-time valuation of $150 million. Gutstein, who oversaw the sale, departed the company last spring and Warner Bros. installed Arons, a longtime marketing executive with experience at Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and EA, as general manager.
Arons says she has spent the better part of the last year looking for ways to plug Machinima into the Warner Bros. Digital Networks business, which operates a portfolio that includes streaming services Boomerang, DramaFever and a forthcoming DC offering. "What Warner Bros. is known for is its talent," she says. "So I applied that idea to Machinima. Our talent network is our most valuable asset."
Arons says she is focused on finding ways to connect Machinima's gaming talent to internal WB initiatives, including becoming a marketing partner for the studio on theatrical releases. Machinima has also begun providing business intelligence to other WB divisions and has become a sort of digital consultancy for the rest of the studio, helping to launch YouTube channels for new brands and overseeing social content production. She adds that Machinima can also help test new ideas as an R&D factory for IP before it goes to film and television.
"When I found myself here at Machinima, I really studied up on what had worked and not worked about the Maker integration into Disney," she says. "One of the things we did a little differently was we immediately figured out where we could help solve problems and add value to the company while at the same time remaining a gamer-focused entity."
To that end, Arons says that the 100-person Machinima is the largest contributor to WBDN in terms of revenue and head count. She declined to provide specifics about Machinima's financials.
Machinima's latest rebrand is its second in less than four years. Gustein also refreshed the company's public image after he joined the company in 2014. He placed a focus on fandom and stories that follow the hero's journey. But Arons has returned Machinima to its gaming roots, launching a 24/7 channel on Twitch and creating a new series of live e-sports tournaments, Body Count Fighting, focused on fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter.
Machinima is also producing programming for a variety of platforms, including Facebook Watch, Verizon's go90 and Amazon Video Direct. Arons also teases that Machinima will soon announce new projects that will fit into the larger WBDN ecosystem.
Meanwhile, Machinima continues to operate its legacy talent network business. But she acknowledges that she's still in the process of evaluating what talent should be under the Machinima umbrella. The talent network is currently being realigned around four gaming verticals.
"We're doing what just about every MCN is doing and having to look at what is the right size of that network," she says. "With so many of the changes coming out of YouTube, how do you insure safety for your brand partners? We have been doing a deep dive to understand every one of our channels and think about how it is fitting into our vision for our talent network."