By now, Jonathan Skogmo has every reason to feel secure in his success as founder and CEO of Jukin Media, which searches out the most shareable user-generated content from around the world and uses it to build out everything from online outlets to network shows.
The company’s flagship FailArmy YouTube channel recently surpassed 10 million subscribers — a landmark Skogmo will be celebrating with a party tonight at YouTube Space LA — and its core owned-and-operated online properties (which also include JukinVideo, People Are Awesome and The Pet Collective) have a combined 30 million fans across platforms.
For those who still don’t appreciate the importance of those metrics, Skogmo can brag about how, in less than two years since launching its TV production arm, Jukin has produced more than 100 episodes of linear TV programming with three shows, “FailArmy,” “World’s Funniest” and “Now That’s Funny!”
But, in spite of all this, seven years after launching Jukin out his apartment in West Hollywood, Skogmo still maintains a start-up mentality.
In recent years, Jukin has accrued a total of $4.2 million in funding — small compared to other media companies, Skogmo points out — from Samsung, BDMI, Maker Studios, Hollywood producer and Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber and serial tech investor Allen DeBevoise.
Skogmo hasn’t touched it.
“It just kind of sits in the bank for a rainy day,” he says.
Skogmo says he’s wary of falling into the “innovator’s dilemma,” as outlined in the book of the same name by Harvard professor Clayton Chrstensen.
“With big companies, they forget to innovate and they forget to do something new when a new guy comes along and starts taking up the smaller market share, and the next thing you know they start competing,” Skogmo explains. “We launch something small in marketplace, we test it, we learn, and we quickly pivot.”
A native of Chicago, Skogmo came to Los Angeles in the early 2000s to launch a career in the entertainment business after graduating from film School at Columbia College in his hometown. One of his first gigs was as a researcher on CMT’s “Country-Fried Home Videos,” a redneck-y takeoff on “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” The job entailed retrieving crates of viewer-submitted VHS tapes and DVDs from the show’s P.O. box in Hollywood and taking them back to the office to vet them for possible inclusion in the broadcast.
“Most of them were crappy, most of them were old and, for whatever reason, the envelopes smelled really bad,” Skogmo recalls. “I’ll have that smell in my head for the rest of my life.”
Frustrated by the cumbersome process, Skogmo decided to look for videos on the web. It seems obvious today, but this was in 2005, when there were no centralized web sites for videos (YouTube uploaded its first video in April of that year), and buffering made streaming a chore.
“A lot of the videos were ‘Jackass’ wannabes — guys lighting their hair on fire and jumping off roofs,” Skogmo says. “It wasn’t really family-friendly and you could never find the owner.”
Eventually, Skogmo did find an appropriate video and its owner. When he informed his supervising producers of his good fortune, they told him not to bother. But he sent the video maker a contract, anyway. By the end of the season, he had licensed more useable videos using his online searches than those heretofore successful veteran producers had using their tried-and-true through-the-mail technique. They were fired, and Skogmo was made a producer.
Skogmo went on to establish himself as the biz’s online video clip whiz kid, working as a producer on such shows as Discovery’s “Destroyed in Seconds” and “Moments of Impact.” Then, while attending the MIP conference in France, he saw a company selling an old show built with the clips he had so diligently sought out, and he had an epiphany: if he was going to be an industry player, he needed to own the IP. So he went home, quit his job and launched his own company.
What started with a handful of part-timers working on folding tables in his apartment has grown into an international operation with 105 employees in its Culver City, Ca., headquarters and another 25 scattered across offices in New York, London and Spain.
The global power of Jukin’s video library is borne out by the company’s multitude of outside deals with entities ranging from Dick Clark Productions, The Huffington Post and Verizon’s Go90 platform in the U.S. to iQIYI, in China and SkyQ and Channel 5 in the U.K.
“User-generated content is the lifeblood of our company, and I really think it’s the lifeblood of our world,” Skogmo says. “For years, many people have knocked [it], but it is the most shareable content in the world, and it’s 100% organic and authentic. You can’t recreate or re-manufacture these moments. You look at the proliferation of mobile devices and GoPros and drones and 360[-degree] cameras. As more average people get these new devices in their hands, they’re going to be creating content and sharing it with the world, and we’re going to be right there to capture it.”