Maker Studios Is Building an In-House Ad Team

Dedicated unit will focus on branded videos

Flush with $26 million in new funding, Maker Studios is looking to up its monetization game. The startup, which manages YouTube stars like PewDiePie and Kassem G, is set to announce the launch of Maker Made, an in-house unit dedicated to helping brands succeed in Web video.

Essentially, Maker is looking to institutionalize branded entertainment and get away from just selling pre-roll ads or doing one-off videos for advertisers. The five-person team will serve as part production arm, part agency, part consulting practice.

“We have a lot of experience with this, and we think we can scale it,” said Maker COO Courtney Holt. He pointed to successes like a program for the film Pitch Perfect last year that mashed up viewer-submitted performances with Maker talent, generating 7 million YouTube views. In July, Maker’s Magic of Rahat pulled off a shopping cart prank for Target that got 2 million-plus views.

“This is an era where great advertising should be content and can be,” said Holt.

But can custom video really scale? “From my perspective, it’s an awesome business to be in if you own the audience,” said Gayle Troberman, chief marketing and ideas officer at IPG Mediabrands. “This is the premium stuff you want to sell and bundle with scale. It’s the sexy, cherry-on-top piece. But if you only try to do one slice of it, it’s a tough business. You’ve got to chase hits.”

Brands say there is a need for specialists here. “YouTube is not a media buy,” said Brian Aucoin, digital media manager at Mattel. “There is no dearth of options if I want to have a YouTube star make a video. But you do need help concepting, developing and distributing. I think what we are looking for is a partner in the space, someone who can sit with us in those early planning meetings.”

As for whether agencies will be threatened, Holt insisted not. Aucoin noted digital shops are moving toward programmatic over creativity anyhow.

Besides branded videos, Maker Made will help clients with their own YouTube channels, offering data, analysis and audience-development strategies. “People ask us for viral videos, which we can’t do,” said Holt. “But we can use data to do a lot of predictive analysis.”

Along with attracting more brands, Maker’s other likely motivation is holding onto more ad revenue. Ads sold via YouTube are split 55/45, but when brands go directly to creators, YouTube is cut out of the deal.

Maker recently bought Blip, giving it another outlet for branded videos. But, said Holt, “YouTube will always be our No. 1 partner.”