Last month, the family-oriented YouTube channel DreamWorksTV surpassed a million subscribers after less than a year and half online. It has outpaced competing kids channels from Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, all of which have been on the platform for nine years or more and have less than 750,000 subscribers, and bested them when it comes to overall views, with 570 million and counting.
“I think some of [our success] is because we’re giving them content that is just made for them in a way that not many others in the space are doing,” DreamWorksTV head Birk Rawlings told VideoInk. “The other is that we’re doing so at a regular pace that is reliable. We are providing new original content every single day, and this particular audience is incredibly voracious and has a borderline bottomless appetite. A kid knows that when they go there looking for new stuff, they’re always going to find something to watch.”
Posting fresh video at regular intervals is one of the most basic moves in the YouTube playbook. But the DreamWorksTV channel — which is a product of DreamWorks Animation and its AwesomenessTV division — features an equal mix of animation and live action content, and the former is notoriously tough to produce quickly or cheaply.
“A lot of it’s just about being resourceful and approaching it as a garage band and trying to figure out an interesting and cool way to take advantage of limitations we have, as opposed to just looking at them as a negative,” Rawlings said.
The channel features vlog posts by characters from the DreamWorks Animation feature film catalog including Kung Fu Panda, Puss In Boots, Shrek and Donkey, created using motion capture — which saves time and money by having live actors digitally drive the movements and expressions of the characters — refined with key frame animation.
“That’s feasible on a web budget is because we’re using feature assets that already exist,” Rawlings said.
DreamWorksTV also keeps the content coming by sourcing animation from a wide range of outside producers
“We’ve worked with people who are a little bit more more YouTube native, like Ron Yavnieli, who did our ‘Gorillaville’ series, all the way to working with larger houses like Six Point Harness, with whom we have series called ‘Lizzie’ coming out soon, and places in between like an up-and-coming boutique studio in Glendale called Oddbot,” Rawlings said. “We also work with overseas studios, as well as animators just doing the work out of their own garages.”
To date, DreamWorksTV has created 1,000 episodes of original content, amounting to 70 series and over 50 hours, which are now also available off-YouTube on Comcast’s Watchable cross-platform video service and the Verizon Go90 platform.
Its biggest success has come with live action shows that mine proven YouTube genres such as DIY (“Like Hacks for Kids,” “Junk Drawer Magic”), music covers (“Songs That Stick”), unboxing (“UnBox It!”) and video game play-throughs (“League of Let’s Play”). Ironically, this type of programming is much cheaper to produce than the animation that is central to the channel’s brand identity.
“The [YouTube] algorithm works for you when you’re producing things that are already working, that people already have an affinity for,” Rawlings explained. “When you’re trying to break brand new character-driven narrative, it’s just harder work.”
But that doesn’t mean DreamWorksTV is going to stop trying.
“We have had some success [with character-driven animation], and we will continue to do it,” Rawlings said. “It’s an important part of why we’re in business.”