Maker Studios has been relatively quiet as it ramps up its staff in its new Venice, CA homebase, building out a veritable powerhouse of top YouTube creative talent. Now word comes that the studio has raised around $1.5 million in funding in a round led by Greycroft Partners and GRP partners. Mark Suster, a partner at GRP partners (and host of web show This Week in Venture Capital) is also listed as a Board member in a recent SEC filing for Maker Studios.
The company confirmed the funding round to us, and it’s now already listed as an active part of Greycroft’s investment portfolio, alongside recent investments like Ad.ly, Klout and Vuze. It didn’t confirm the exact size of the round, though in the SEC Form D filing from January, the company stated it plans on raising $1,524,999, with five directors listed including founders Ben Donovan, Lisa Donovan (aka LisaNova), Daniel Zappin, Maker’s quasi-CEO Ezra Cooperstein and Suster.
The studio emerged out of The Station, a cooperative channel of top YouTube creators featuring the likes of ShayCarl, LisaNova, KassemG and others. But after realizing the network effect of coordinating top channels and its power to generate some serious view counts (and revenue through the YouTube partner program), Zappin and the Donovans turned their efforts towards building out a full blown studio of coordinated channels. Now The Station—its 133 million views and over 1 million subscribers—is just one part of studio (and network) that represents over 150 channels and generates 325 million views per month.
Maker now firmly sits in the top spot of creative studios built around YouTube channels, especially after YouTube’s recent acquisition of Next New Networks earlier this year. Its January SEC filing listed the company’s annual revenues in the one to five million range, which now seems conservative given their recent channel additions of stars like Ray William Johnson who is on track to takeover the top most subscribed spot on YouTube from Ryan Higa later this summer. Add on top of that an influx of branded video deals like a campaign for Google TV, and it’s likely higher.
Venture capital has been wary of investing in online video content plays after earlier flops such as maniaTV and 60Frames left investors with cold feet. Recent moves show they just may be warming up to content again, especially now that video advertising CPMs on top platforms like YouTube and Hulu have reached the point of sustaining businesses. Comedy network My Damn Channel tacked on $4.4 million from investors last fall, while gaming network Machinima added another $9 million.
“Maker Studios was founded by YouTube content creators from the ground up and for 18 months we had no funding,” co-founder Danny Zappin told us about the decision to raise funding. “Seeing the marketplace finally maturing, we felt it was time to take some funding in order to be able to invest into different areas that provide more value to our partners.”
Though Cooperstein is listed as Maker’s CEO in some places, the company is pulling away from the title. “We currently have no CEO or any other C titles,” pointed out Zappin. “We’re moving away from the normal corporate structure. This is a different kind of structure with different roles and titles than normal.”
In some respects, Maker is a model that Hollywood has seen before, and co-founder Lisa Donovan makes the comparison to the founding of United Artists back in 1919 by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and other stars as the first talent-led studio. Channels that partner with Maker share their individual channel revenues with the studio, and many also receive a small share of the overall revenue from all channels in a bit of a co-op model. “By bringing these once fragmented YouTube channels together, the Company offers unparalleled opportunities for content creators, brand advertisers, and consumers,” a recent description of company read.
Think your YouTube channel is right for Maker? Well you better be ready to commit full time. “We’re looking for talented individuals who are willing to fully commit to the YouTube platform and who want to work in a collaborative environment with other talent,” added Zappin. “We are looking for team players who are motivated to make YouTube their full time job.”
Shira Lazar, in a recent episode of Partners Project went into Maker’s Venice studio for a behind the scenes tour with LisaNova: