Months after getting the company to acquisition, Chad Gutstein (pictured) is departing post as CEO of Machinima, a seat he held for three years. Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment SVP of Worldwide Marketing Russell Arons, will take over as GM. Gutstein issued a company-wide letter this morning.
“[Chad has] done a great job leading Machinima’s team as they’ve strengthened their creator network, improved audience engagement and launched a content studio,” said Craig Hunegs, President, Business and Strategy, Warner Bros. Television Group and President, Warner Bros. Digital Networks Group.
Gutstein came into Machinima with a very clear mission of turning Machinima around and into a position where real M&A discussions could take place. In November, that mission was realized. Warner Bros., who held a significant stake in the business already, acquired the remaining stake in the business.
But as we’ve seen time and again from M&A, very rarely do the businesses continue operating as autonomous units. Maker Studios, a fellow early multi-channel network and acquired business (by Disney), for example, just recently suffered a significant, and final fatal staffing blow by parent Disney, which is likely going to shut the business down.
Many executives at Disney told VideoInk during the integration period that there was dissent against Maker Studios when a “mandate came down from the top” that Maker Studios would be taking over all digital-video related production across Disney-owned properties like ESPN and ABC Digital.
Conversely, sources close to Machinima tell VideoInk that the business has been going well since the integration with Warner Bros. but that it would take an internal Warner Bros. alum to champion the brand and champion internal buy off — which is where Russell Aron comes in, to prevent the internal dissent from impeding the ability for Machinima to thrive.
“Russell is a terrific creative executive with exceptional audience experience and brand building capabilities. With deep knowledge in gaming, she speaks the same language as our Machinima creators, community and team, and has the proven ability to build and unlock strong consumer relationships,” said Hunegs, on her hire.
While Arons doesn’t hold experience in the content development and production space, her background in gaming having come from Electronic Arts and understanding product and project marketing. Further, Arons, though she’ll report in to Hunegs, is said to also have in-roads to DC President Diane Nelson, who has been leading the content business for almost a decade, according to one source.
“In her new role, Russell will deepen Machinima’s relationship with an audience that’s important to many Warner Bros. divisions to further optimize our marketing and direct-to-consumer activities and serve as a hub for social video across the company,” Hunegs said.
Since 2009, Machinima has grown from a talent-driven multi-channel network into a production studio and media company with deals with Amazon Prime, Verizon’s go90, China’s Sohu and The CW Network, in addition to their collaborative projects with Warner Bros. As one of the first to hit over a billon subsribers globally on YouTube, today Machinima is the “10th largest media company in the U.S. ranked by total unique viewers” according to Comscore with 3.8 billion monthly video views, globally.
In order for Machinima to thrive inside of Warner Bros., the company will need to continue building its library of original IP — a la DC Entertainment-style and be empowered by the various divisions inside of Warner Bros. to continue scaling its production relationships with digital distributors.
That final piece will be dictated by the maturity of the online video industry, which still has limitations in measurement and in generating real, high-value, repeat franchise IP.
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment’s Senior Vice
President of Worldwide Marketing, Russell Arons, has been named General Manager of
Machinima, Warner Bros. Digital Network Group’s multi-platform programming service with a
global community of gamer, comic, and hero fans. This announcement was made today by Craig
Hunegs, President, Business and Strategy, Warner Bros. Television Group and President, Warner
Bros. Digital Networks Group. Arons will work with Chad Gutstein, Machinima’s current CEO,
on a multi-week transition plan, after which he’ll leave the company to pursue entrepreneurial
In her new role, Arons will lead all of Machinima’s creative, marketing services, data analytics,
business development and operations, as well as the Machinima MCN.
“Russell is a terrific creative executive with exceptional audience experience and brand building
capabilities. With deep knowledge in gaming, she speaks the same language as our Machinima
creators, community and team, and has the proven ability to build and unlock strong consumer
relationships,” said Hunegs. “In her new role, Russell will deepen Machinima’s relationship
with an audience that’s important to many Warner Bros. divisions to further optimize our
marketing and direct-to- consumer activities and serve as a hub for social video across the
Machinima became part of Warner Bros. Digital Networks Group in November 2016; prior to
that, the Studio was an investor in the programming service. A global programming service and
production operation delivering popular programming to millions, Machinima runs a full-service
production studio and has premium content partnerships with key platforms, including
Playstation Vue, Amazon Prime, Verizon’s go90, China’s Sohu and The CW Network.
According to comScore (January 2017), Machinima is the 10th largest digital video
entertainment media company in the U.S. ranked by total unique viewers. Globally, Machinima
has 3.8 billion monthly video views for a total of 19 billion minutes of video watched per month.
“I’d also like to thank Chad for his many contributions over the last three years,” Hunegs
continued. “He’s done a great job leading Machinima’s team as they’ve strengthened their
creator network, improved audience engagement and launched a content studio. I know he’s
eager to take on a new venture, and everyone at Warner Bros. wishes him great success.”
Arons joined Warner Bros. in 2009 as Senior Vice President, Worldwide Marketing, Warner
Bros. Interactive Entertainment. She has been a key member of the leadership team responsible
for building WBIE into a top-tier video game publisher with global franchises and multiple
Before WBIE, Arons served as head of marketing for Electronic Arts’ EA Play division which
included “The Sims” and “MySims” franchises, “Harry Potter” and the Hasbro portfolio, based
on popular toy brands and board games. Prior to joining EA in 2007, Arons served as Vice
President of Marketing at InfoSpace and, before that, she spent a decade at Mattel.
Arons is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Lake Forest College in Illinois with degrees in
Business and Philosophy.
About Warner Bros. Digital Networks Group:
Three years ago, I enlisted in a professional challenge unlike any other I’d yet faced; to re-invigorate a struggling digital brand and a team with a broken spirit and help it rediscover what made it great, so it could once again thrive. Together, we have wildly succeeded at this challenge.
I have been so very fortunate to have had all of you on this journey alongside me. We could not have succeeded without your passion, your hard work, and your willingness to boldly confront what was broken and put it back together stronger than ever before. You rebuilt Machinima’s culture, Machinima’s brand and created Machinima’s success.
And wow have you succeeded. In fact, we surpassed all expectations. We doubled Machinima’s reach, re-built a strong and profitable MCN by delivering meaningful value to our talented partners, and pivoted our business by launching a large and growing premium content studio. We evolved from a YouTube-only company, to one distributing our content across all major social networks, leading OTT services, MVPDs and even to traditional TV and radio. We produced groundbreaking, award-winning and highly entertaining content. We helped hundreds of companies connect to gamer and geek audiences. We grew our business and improved our profitability. And we realized liquidity for our venture shareholders and found a dedicated, supportive and ambitious new owner in Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. has been an incredible business partner to me and to Machinima these past three years. I’m so very grateful to Craig Hunegs, Thomas Gewecke, Jay Levine, Robert Steele and the many other talented and passionate Warner Bros. executives who believed in what we were trying to accomplish. They supported our efforts not only with their investment, but through executional partnership and support.
I’m grateful to Geoff Yang, Bret Maxwell, Tony Vinciquerra, Matt Coffin, Mark Terbeek, Yair Landau, and of course, to our visionary co-founder Allen DeBevoise, for giving me the opportunity to come to Machinima. Our former Board and shareholders believed in Machinima’s success and in our collective ability to return the company to strength. They supported me, and our team, every step of the way.
I’m grateful to Machinima’s legion of amazingly talented network partners. Many stuck with us through those early days. Many more gave us a chance to prove how great a business partner we could be. Because they have pushed us to be great, Machinima now has the strongest, best service offering and most satisfied partners in our history.
We must give thanks to the 150 million fans who watch our content each and every month.
I’m especially grateful for our team. I’d like to specifically mention Marc Verville, Stephen Semprevivo, Chris Riley, Joe Epstein, David Shikiar, Jason Dimberg, Don Reilley, Kesa Tsuda, Daniel Tibbets, Jamie Weissenborn, and Tricia White. The dedication, perseverance, passion and hard work these people have demonstrated is incredible. Their work has benefited all of us and made us all stronger.
Thank you also to Alec McElroy, who helped me help Machinima every day.
When I joined Machinima, Stephen was the first member of the senior team to really embrace me and jump on-board. As Russell takes the helm, I know you will all follow Stephens’s example by embracing her. Russell has been a business partner and advocate for Machinima and I have complete confidence she will lead you to even greater success.
It has been my greatest professional honor to come to work here, for you, every day these past three years. Machinima is strong. This team is strong. But don’t be complacent. Keep daring to be stronger.