Can the Hits of DreamWorks Animation's Past Power Its Future on YouTube?

Can the Hits of DreamWorks Animation's Past Power Its Future on YouTube?

New YouTube channel mixes familiar faces like “Shrek” and “Kung Fu Panda” with new original series

A year after paying Brian Robbins $33 million for AwesomenessTV, Jeffrey Katzenberg is entrusting Robbins with his company's most prized possession: its characters.

“Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda” and other beloved creatures from DreamWorks Animation movies will host their own shows on DreamWorksTV, a new YouTube channel overseen by Robbins. It launched officially Monday, though it has already picked up more than 200,000 subscribers since its soft launch in the spring.

Robbins attributes that early success to his “friends Shrek, Donkey and Panda,” and he is relying on those characters to give the channel a competitive advantage in a crowded field. There are already several popular animation channels on YouTube, including Mondo Media, Shut Up! Cartoons and Cartoon Hangover, all of which boast more than a million subscribers.

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“DreamWorks is a beloved brand, and it has a lot of awareness around the world,” Robbins told TheWrap. “We post a video to YouTube day one and we're not just talking about domestic viewers; we're talking about the whole world. That will give a tremendous position to start.”

Unlike those other channels, DreamWorksTV will feature both animation and live-action shows, blending DreamWorks Animation's core expertise with that of Robbins.

The channel's upcoming live-action slate includes “OMG,” a sketch comedy series, and “Prank My Parents,” a prank show in which kids get revenge on their parents, while the animated lineup includes “Gorillaville,” a show about three gorillas who love to cause trouble, and “Fifi Cat Therapist,” a show bout a feline who advises other neighborhood animals.

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“We wanted to have a real family channel, not just an animated one,” Robbins said. “Kids’ programming has always consisted of a good balance of animation and live action.”

Watch an episode of “Gorillaville” below (story continues after).

It is hard to bet against Robbins, who produced hit TV shows “Smallville” and “One Tree Hill” before capturing that same, fickle tweenage audience with AwesomenessTV.

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He is well aware of how different viewers’ expectations are for YouTube videos relative to TV and movies. That is one reason his team turned Shrek and Donkey into vloggers.

Vloggers’ main appeal is their cult of personality, which characters like Shrek have in spades. Robbins is betting they will help lure viewers for other shows as well, creating new intellectual property for a company that has a strong library.

DreamWorks TV will also mine the Classic Media library for a show about Richie Rich that will be released in “long-form” episodes of 11 minutes.

All of these shows  target the same families flocking to theaters for “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” DreamWorks Animation's latest movie. Few animation channels on YouTube target families in the traditional sense. Their shows resemble the animation of Cartoon Network, which has a channel of its own.

“Part of opportunity here is a lot of animation is made for adults,” Birk Rawling, the head of animation at AwesomenessTV, told TheWrap. “We're excited to be able to bring a family audience with content created for the web and specifically for them.”

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Web video remains a small part of DreamWorks Animation's broader business. AwesomenessTV generated $4.1 million of revenue in the last fiscal quarter and operated at a loss of $80,000. Robbins said his team has not begun to sell advertisements for the new channel, waiting for the organic growth Awesomeness experienced.

Yet as his own acquisition by DreamWorks Animation and Disney's recent deal for Maker Studios highlight, sometimes amassing an audience is the first step to creating value.

“With the DreamWorks characters as a starting point, and then our history of making live action, we stand a really good chance of standing out from the crowd,” Robbins said.