God·fa·ther (ˈɡädˌfäT͟Hər/) n. a man who is influential in a movement or organization, through providing support for it or through playing a leading or innovatory part in it.
By that definition, it’s a no-brainer why VideoInk coined Allen DeBevoise “The Godfather of the Industry” in our 2013 article on his background investing in online video business. And now, three years later, DeBevoise has made over 50 investments in online video and emerging entertainment businesses, playing a crucial role in the growth of an entire industry over the last couple decades.
Much like fellow Power Sixer Jimmy Maymann, DeBevoise has an interest in online video that can be traced back through the recesses of its history, to 1996, when he was tapped by TCI to scout new investment opportunities.
It was then DeBevoise formulated a core belief about the next wave of entertainment. “The broadcaster of television was the first wave, and the second wave was empowered by the cable infrastructure which allowed there to be a lot more networks,” he said in a phone interview. “The premise that we had back that was when broadband arrived, this would usher in the idea of new video brands [and] we would see what I call the third wave of these video brands.”
As the entertainment space surged from 50 to 500 to 5000 channels, DeBevoise predicted that this third wave of entertainment brands would be empowered by the open platform, global, and instantaccess nature of the internet with subscription businesses like Netflix and Hulu on one side and ad-supported businesses like YouTube and Machinima on the other.
For DeBevoise, Machinima, a gaming and video company that he led as chairman and CEO between 2008 and 2013, was a testing bed for the future model, and one that could serve as the model for his stable of early portfolio investments, including AwesomenessTV, DanceOn, INDMUSIC, Tastemade, and StyleHaul.
“When I first started thinking about doing something with Machinima, it was right about the the time that YouTube had come of age,” DeBevoise said. “We thought this could be it. This could be the platform that goes global, and enable[s] the ability for new brands to be born. And, of course, we know now that is what happened.”
The model created by Machinima and creator network Maker Studios was that of aggregating channels, celebrating cross-network view counts (Machinima hit the billion view count in 2010) and grooming talent while developing unique video series and owned IP.
“We did this around the same time as Maker,” DeBevoise said. “I don’t know if it was us or [Maker CEO] Danny [Zappin]. We thought of ourselves as more of a programming brand and network model.”
Other YouTube media companies including those above which DeBevoise either encouraged or co-founded, as well as Broadband TV, Fullscreen and Big Frame followed suit, coining the term “multi-channel network” to describe the businesses. And so the ecosystem was born, from the hand and pocketbook of The Godfather.
“Overall, I was super excited about the model, because I saw this as a new beginning for a new set of programming brands,” explained DeBevoise. “I just love the energy of all these entrepreneurs wanting to start new video brands. Some of those have done incredibly well.”.
Flash forward seven years and multiple exits later, including DramaFever to Softbank Capital (and then most recently to Warner Bros.), AwesomenessTV in 2013 to DreamWorks Animation and StyleHaul to RTL Group in 2015, and DeBevoise continues to pepper the third wave of media businesses with investments, aptly naming his latest fund, Third Wave Capital, after the trend.
In recent months, DeBevoise has been placing bets on virtual reality businesses such as Vrideo and Bubblecam; digital video studios like Insurrection Media and Freddie Wong’s RocketJump; infrastructure companies like IRIS.TV; distribution platforms like Vessel; and emerging video platforms like Naritiv, which runs branded campaigns on Snapchat.
According to DeBevoise, his goal is to invest in any company within the digital video ecosystem that can “help elevate the whole industry.”
And the model is continuing to evolve, which DeBevoise sees as another big opportunity, not just for the video endemics but also the larger entertainment ecosystem.
“One thing that is really exciting about the era that were are in now is that the model has modified itself [away] from being ‘Hey we really have large scale and a big brand, but we are only focused on one platform.’ Now a lot of competing platforms are going after video, and you are seeing companies with native advertising growing. We are seeing companies with significant licensing revenue from companies that are trying to compete in the space, whether it’s Vessel, or go90, or the television networks themselves buying content.”
As the business shakes out, and models evolve, chances are that you’ll find DeBevoise behind the scenes making moves and placing bets to move the industry forward, Godfather-style.
*Disclosure: Allen DeBevoise is an investor in VideoInk, both personally and via his fund Third Wave Capital.