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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Viacom Reportedly in Advanced Talks to Acquire AwesomenessTV

Viacom is in advanced talks to acquire AwesomenessTV for a fraction of the $650 million valuation it commanded in 2016, a source familiar with the discussions have told Deadline.


Comcast currently owns 51% of the young-skewing digital content player (a result of its acquisition of DreamWorks Animation), with Hearst and Verizon owning the rest.

If the deal closes as expected in the coming weeks, it would be a homecoming for the brand. Awesomeness founder Brian Robbins is now an executive at Viacom’s Paramount Pictures and Kelly Day, a former senior executive at Awesomeness, runs digital for Viacom.

Like many digital platforms being squeezed by online advertising behemoths Google and Facebook, Awesomeness has seen its valuation dwindle. Its three corporate owners all have other priorities, opening the door for Viacom to roll up the entire business, satisfying the wish of Awesomeness to have a single owner.

A source familiar with Viacom’s thinking said management views the company as a strong fit with its existing brands like Nickelodeon and MTV and a way to demonstrate bona fides in digital as linear viewing continues to decline.

Nickelodeon previously partnered with AwesomenessTV for a comedy sketch show in 2013, as well as a movie, Terry the Tomboy, in 2014.

Verizon was in a more content-centric strategic mode in 2016, but has since shifted toward wireless and new technology such as 5G. Lowell McAdam, who was CEO of Verizon when it bought into Awesomeness in 2016, is set to retire at the end of the month.

Jordan Levin, a media veteran known for stints at the NFL and WB network, took the helm at Awesomeness last year after Robbins moved into his current role as head of Paramount Players. Robbins is not expected to have any day-to-day involvement in Awesomeness if it joins the Viacom fold, sources indicated.

Viacom declined to comment on the story. Reps for AwesomenessTV didn’t respond to requests for comment.

More from Variety:

Viacom in Talks to Buy AwesomenessTV

Viacom is in advanced talks to acquire AwesomenessTV, the youth-skewing digital media company currently owned by Comcast, Verizon and Hearst, sources confirmed to Variety.

In the negotiations, Viacom is offering less than than half of AwesomenessTV’s previous $650 million valuation, according to a Bloomberg report, following an earlier post by VideoInk. The Awesomeness assets are seen as a good fit in the Viacom portfolio — and one source said financial terms under discussion are very attractive, characterizing the price well below $300 million.

Viacom declined to comment. Reps for AwesomenessTV didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Awesomeness is majority-owned by Comcast/NBCUniversal, which holds a 51% interest, with 24.5% stakes owned by Verizon and Hearst. The L.A.-based company has a distribution footprint that spans owned-and-operated, social, and subscription VOD platforms. Awesomeness’s business also includes a creative agency, a YouTube creator network, and brand partnerships division.

AwesomenessTV had a major deal with Verizon to produce short-form originals for go90, the ad-supported mobile-video service that the telco is shutting down this month.

Awesomeness was co-founded in 2012 by Brian Robbins, who exited as CEO in early 2017 and is now president of Viacom’s Paramount Players youth-focused entertainment production division. Last fall, Viacom recruited Kelly Day, previously chief business officer at AwesomenessTV exec as president of Viacom Digital Studios.

The familiarity of Robbins and Day with the Awesomeness business is another plus that’s fueled Viacom’s interest, sources say. The deal is still being worked out between Viacom and AwesomenessTV’s owners, and it’s possible they won’t clinch an agreement.

Viacom has recently been stepping up its investment in digital-media under CEO Bob Bakish. The company earlier this year acquired VidCon, the eight-year-old video-creator conference, and is planning to expand the event to London. The media conglomerate also recently bought Whosay, a New York-based influencer-marketing firm incubated by CAA that specializes in targeting young audiences online with branded content.

In 2013 DreamWorks Animation, under then-CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, bought AwesomenessTV in a deal worth at least $33 million — one of the first traditional media companies to place a sizable bet on original digital-video content. Comcast picked up Awesomeness after it completed the $3.8 billion acquisition of DWA.

Two years ago, Verizon paid about $159 million to acquire its stake in AwesomenessTV, giving the digital-media outfit a $650 million valuation. That was double what Awesomeness was valued at when Hearst invested in the company in 2014.

After Robbins left AwesomenessTV last year, the company tapped Jordan Levin, a veteran TV exec who helped launch the WB Network, as CEO. President Brett Bouttier quietly exited the company in May, after five and a half years with AwesomenessTV.

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From Bloomberg:

Viacom in Talks to Acquire AwesomenessTV Company

Viacom Inc. is in talks to acquire youth-media company AwesomenessTV from Comcast Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and Hearst Corp., according to two people familiar with the matter.

The parties haven’t reached a final deal, but the talks are in advanced stages and could conclude in just a couple weeks, said the people, who asked not to be identified because talks are ongoing. Viacom will pay less than half the $650 million valuation AwesomenessTV received back in 2016, a sign of the sagging market for online media companies.

Viacom has begun scooping up digital properties after years of being criticized for fighting the migration of media to the internet, including a lawsuit against Google. The idea is to better connect with the young viewers that have left Viacom channels MTV and Nickelodeon in favor of YouTube and Instagram. It acquired the online video convention VidCon and marketing firm Whosay and has commissioned dozens of web series.

Viacom’s digital studio is led by Kelly Day, who once worked at AwesomenessTV, while Brian Robbins, AwesomenessTV’s co-founder and former chief executive officer, works at Viacom’s studio Paramount Pictures.

Viacom was little changed at $27.29 as of 9:39 a.m. in New York trading. The stock has struggled in the past year, tumbling 25 percent over 12 months through Tuesday’s close.

Comcast Stake

Once one of the fastest-growing companies in online media, AwesomenessTV has struggled to turn its popularity among young viewers into a sustainable business, and the owners have soured on a money-losing venture. Comcast has a 51 percent stake in AwesomenessTV, while Verizon and Hearst Corp. own the rest. The owners decided the company would be better off with just one part in control, said the people.

Comcast acquired a stake in AwesomenessTV through its acquisition of DreamWorks Animation, the animation studio behind “Shrek” and “Kung Fu Panda,” while Verizon acquired its stake under outgoing Chief Executive Officer Lowell McAdam.

AwesomenessTV was valued at $650 million when Verizon acquired its minority stake in 2016, and it fit alongside the Huffington Post and AOL in the phone company’s growing suite of online properties. Verizon’s incoming CEO, Hans Vestberg, has begun to reduce Verizon’s interests in media.

Media Morass

The valuation of most digital-media companies has plummeted over the past few years as Facebook and Google swallowed much of the online-advertising market. Dozens of companies that built businesses by distributing video and news on those sites have suffered. The news site Little Things closed, while Walt Disney Co.’s Maker Studios and news site Mic fired staff.

Robbins, a former actor, filmmaker and producer, founded Awesomeness after watching his children forsake TV for YouTube and other online media.

The company amassed a network of tens of thousands of YouTube channels, for which it sold advertisements and advised on business matters. AwesomenessTV also produced an eponymous TV show for Nickelodeon; movies featuring popular online personalities Cameron Dallas and Lia Marie Johnson; and web series for brands like “Royal Crush,” made in conjunction with the Royal Caribbean cruise line.

The growing audience online for web video attracted further investment, and increased the company’s valuation. DreamWorks Animation acquired AwesomenessTV in a deal worth as much as $117 million, and AwesomenessTV was valued at $235 million when Hearst acquired a minority stake.

Verizon, which bought its minority stake in 2016, also handed AwesomenessTV a significant sales boost when it acquired programming for Go90, a short-form video service that was Verizon’s challenge to YouTube. Yet Verizon shut down Go90 earlier this year, and has been looking to extricate itself from AwesomenessTV as well.

Longtime media executive Jordan Levin took the reins at AwesomenessTV last year, succeeding Robbins. Robbins and Chief Operating Officer Brett Bouttier have since left the company, which signed a lease for a 90,000-square-foot space in 2016.

Videoink previously reported that Viacom was looking to acquire AwesomenessTV.

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From the New York Post:

Viacom mulling purchase of AwesomenessTV

Viacom is eyeing the purchase of youth-focused media company AwesomenessTV, sources said.

The Redstone family-controlled New York media giant is in advanced talks to acquire the Los Angeles company — jointly-owned by Comcast/NBCUniversal, Verizon and Hearst, The Post has confirmed.

Viacom declined to comment on any possible talks, first reported by Bloomberg.

The parent company of MTV, Paramount Pictures, Comedy central and other cable properties, Viacom is hoping to snap up the 6-year old company at a fraction of its $650 million valuation, sources said.

The talks are fluid and a deal is not guaranteed, sources cautioned.

AwesomenessTV could fit nicely into Viacom’s portfolio of youth-oriented brands, which also includes Nickelodeon, those sources said.

Bought by DreamWorks Animation in 2013, a year after it was formed, AwesomenessTV has a distribution footprint that includes social and subscription video-on-demand platforms, as well as a creative agency, a YouTube creator network and brand partnerships division.

Brian Robbins co-founded the company in 2012. He left as its CEO last year and is now president of Viacom’s youth-centric entertainment production division, Paramount Players.

At the same time, Viacom hired Kelly Day, the chief business officer of AwesomenessTV, last fall to become president of Viacom Digital Studios.

The duo’s familiarity with AwesomenessTV will likely ease the transition should Viacom ink the deal.

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