Machinima: Lights, camera, traction

Michael French
Machinima: Lights, camera, traction

Two weeks ago we took a long look at the current state of advertising games on TV, and the jury is still out on the value of that medium. But in terms of actual editorial content, the games revolution has already been televised – as online video.

Just ask Machinima which, going by ComScore stats, is the most popular online video outlet on the planet targeting gamers.

With 24m unique viewers in the US during March, and over 210m around the world, Machinima is effectively the MTV of video games. The firm is the most watched in YouTube partner terms, with its own-grown and partner videos scoring over 60 minutes viewing time a month in the US, almost twice as much as its nearest rival, Vevo.

Machinima’s growth isn’t just an impressive stat. The firm’s scale and efforts are now becoming important to the UK as it expands in to our shores with home-grown content.

But building vast audiences like this isn’t something you do overnight or on your own.

Today, Machinima hosts and produces a variety of content of different shapes and sizes. It works with independent YouTube video stars (aka ‘Channel Partners’) such as TheSyndicateProject or FPSrussia to publish and publicise their videos; it produces original content and news shows; it produces ideas pitched in by third parties; and it has a growing, impressive line of dramatic miniseries the most famous being last year’s big budget Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, viewed 26m times in five weeks.

“In traditional broadcasting this online video boom
really caught them by surprise. Even when that
business had structured itself to produce a real
spread of content, from network stuff to the more
luxurious premium content like Game of Thrones,
it has surprised them at how fast this area
has grown.”

Philip DeBevoise - president and co-founder, Machinima


Machinima was never originally built to be this populist, ironically. It was founded in 2000 to showcase fan-made movies and animation shorts built using game engines and dev tools. But the YouTube generation provided an even more accessible opportunity, with bedroom video jockeys creating a commercial goldmine as advertisers stepped up to be seen by a huge audience looking for quirky content.

“When we started out, the vision was for people to share their creations,” explains president and co-founder Philip DeBevoise.

That still seems to be consistent today, even if the type of creations are different. But the business model has changed. FMCG and lifestyle brands have flocked to this space (even the Machinima UK submissions video guide is preceded this week by a Heineken pre-roll ad)

So a global audience in the millions has meant big business, often setting the agenda for the wider online video and even wider media landscape. A $35m investment from Google a year ago can’t have hurt either, and underlines Machinima’s clout.

“In traditional broadcasting this online video boom really caught them by surprise. Even when that business had structured itself to produce a real spread of content, from network stuff to the more luxurious premium content like Game of Thrones, it has surprised them at how fast this area has grown,” says DeBevoise.

The most important part of what Machinima does is who it talks to. It not only has an array of popular YouTube partners already and some big brands on side, but a vast audience of male 18 to 34-year-old gamers and genre fans.

A huge chunk of those viewers are people you have tried to reach with your marketing or have sold games to.

Says DeBevoise: “There is an incredible passion and common language around the world of games, comics, movies and tech that crosses borders. Look at how those fans turn out in droves for ComicCon or Gamescom. We reach out to them in formats that can be transported around the world, and localised – or even watched globally – that is talking about the things they want to hear about.

“What does this audience love? There’s a collision of tastes in the geek audience. That’s our core audience today.”

This is a pretty switched on bunch, too. “They are incredibly passionate, very social, and the typical sorts that stand in line for iPhones to be released. Our viewers are the force of nature characters who are driving forward cultural events, be that apps or Avatar.

“The media market calls them a Lost Generation: they are not watching TV, they are not reading magazines. But they are online, watching TV content through their phone or a games console. And they spend money; they buy gadgets, they buy expensive games. But they aren’t consuming traditional media. They are watching content on Machinima and from other video companies.”

Machinima has been predominantly run from the US. Although it has been active in the UK for three years, the official appointment of a head of UK content and a drive to find local partners and ideas has formalised a wider European and foreign-language roll out.

“Now we are able to offer a UK destination that is developing original programming with partners as well as hosting locally-made content,” explains DeBevoise.

“The media market calls them a Lost Generation:
they are not watching TV, they are not reading
magazines. But they are online, watching TV
content through their phone or a games console.
And they spend money; they buy gadgets, they
buy expensive games. But they aren’t consuming
traditional media. They are watching content on
Machinima and from other video companies.”

Philip DeBevoise - president and co-founder, Machinima


“We’re very excited to be talking to the industry about this now, and already have lots of support from YouTube and Google and have been on their roadshow to talk to brands about how they can be involved.

“We aren’t going to be limited to UK, France and Gemany. There are some fast-growing territories that we can get into with our established shows and videos, plus daily, local content and support from partners.”

DeBevoise is convinced that that audience of committed gaming and sci-fi fans Machinima serves are global and permanent, not a short-term phenomenon, with plenty of crossover. Blade Runner and Alien director Ridley Scott recently signed up to make an original miniseries that will be broadcast via Machinima, for instance.

“So we have an incredible opportunity to speak to them with formats that can be transported or localised, with new formats, or entirely new content.

“That audience loves comedy, too. If someone came to me and pitched something like The IT Crowd or The Inbetweeners – I’d want to work with them. We’re not here to shove an America-created show down UK audience’s throats.”

DeBevoise’s focus at the moment is on this global expansion, but he says that it won’t work if the company doesn’t keep its growing army of viewers entertained.

“Do we feel we’ve achieved that original vision? We’re never happy – just ask the people who work for us! Joking aside, what I really mean is that we want to keep innovating. We’re always asking what is new out there we can do, what audiences can we reach.

“Video online is a two-way medium. Fans are telling us what they want to see, or commenting on videos, so feedback, positive and negative, becomes a huge driver to what we want to accomplish.”

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Tags: interview , video games , video , youtube , Machinima , debevoise

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