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How Robert Kyncl and UTA Helped Introduce Awesomeness to DreamWorks

Digital head Brent Weinstein talks about big YouTube deal

Earlier this week, DreamWorks acquired the tween/teen-focused YouTube channel AwesomenessTV for $33 million. Allthingsd.com said the incentive-based deal could be worth as much as $117 million by 2015. Pretty amazing, considering that Awesomeness, founded by veteran producer Brian Robbins, only launched nine months ago. YouTube even brought DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg on stage with Robbins during the company’s NewFront on Wednesday to celebrate.

A key player behind the scenes of the deal was United Talent Agency. Not only has the agency repped Robbins for years, but the company has also been an investor and advisor to Awesomeness TV.

Adweek talked to Brent Weinstein, head of digital media at United Talent Agency, about the big deal.

Adweek: Tell us about UTA's relationship with Awesomeness TV.
Brian Robbins has been a client of the agency for many years. This really started several years ago. We introduced Brian to Lucas Cruikshank, who was behind this crazy character Fred on YouTube. And Brian turned Fred into a TV and movie franchise. And I think then he realized he power of digital storytelling, that it was about short-form content, having two-way conversations, etc. He was very successful with that project early on, and thus Brian wanted to push aggressively into that space, leveraging YouTube and creating IP that could move into other media.

What was your company's role in the DreamWorks deal?
Well we were certainly trailing on Brian’s vision. We helped them with negotiation their funding early on, we led the negotiations with DreamWorks, a whole bunch of things in between. It’s something that we were really proud to be involved in.

How fast did it happen?
Relatively quickly. Robert Kyncl (YouTube’s global head of content) suggested that Brian and Jeffrey get together. The deal happened within a few months. Things moved very quickly.

Why do you think Awesomeness worked?
What was unique about this was that several things intersected at the right time. First, you have Brian, who is one of the most successful producers of tween and teen content maybe ever. Then you had YouTube really hitting critical mass, and they were about to embark on the funded channel effort which helped get this this off the ground. And you had this audience that was shunning traditional TV in massive numbers. And there was a lot appealing to then on YouTube but it wasn’t centralized. So it felt like a very big idea. If we did it well could turn out positively.

Could you have launched it without YouTube’s funding?
They’ve been great partners. To diminish their role would be unfair. Their financing has really been an amazing thing. In absence of that, I still believe the idea was big enough that we ultimately could have gotten it funded. But beyond the check they wrote, they put in place a  tremendous amount of infrastructure. It’s undeniable that YouTube put a huge effort into that. I understand some that were part of the funded channels initiative were not as pleased, and some people didn’t have as much success, and maybe that was preordained. The content has to work. Not everything works. This was a magical combination.

Still, the speed is pretty wild, right?
We always knew if we built something valuable it would work. A lot of people are focused on the nine-to-10-month pace but the company really goes back to 2010. It’s been an amazing ride for the past two and half years. Brian’s instincts to how to program to this audience are great. It’s something a lot of YouTube stars have figured out and a lot of traditional media has not figured out. YouTube isn’t some magic bullet. In some cases it’s about batting averages. Brian and his team really took the time to learn it.

With this deal done, do you see a ton of YouTube channel acquisitions coming?
I don't think so. At the end of the day of the it's not like fantasy football where there’s a run on tight ends. They have to be looked at very carefully. I think if you look at Maker Studios, it speaks to that potential synergy with a media company, given Time Warner's huge investment. You see companies saying, "there are people out there that understand this world way more than I do.” And to a certain degree it does validate the space. But I don’t think you’ll see a ton of deals.

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