Acquired by Warner Bros. over a year ago, Machinima has long been the destination for video gamers. What started out as a YouTube channel has grown to become a destination for gamer entertainment no matter the platform. The company now has a presence that spans across multiple platforms, including Facebook Watch, Snapchat, Twitter, and Twitch. Helping lead its continued charge into the future is Machinima GM Russel Arons.
Prior to becoming GM, Arons helped transform the Warner Bros. video game business from a licensing department into a top-tier publisher, growing the business from the #14 publisher in 2009 to #3 in 2015 with $1B in revenue. Additionally, she managed an annual marketing budget of $150M, diversifying spends to effectively target kid, millennial, and adult audiences across the LEGO, DC Comics, Harry Potter, Tolkien and Mortal Kombat franchises.
This week the industry veteran discusses the company’s rebrand, its push into linear, and how its handling interactive video.
Machinima recently went through a major rebrand, what led to this decision?
I’d like to say it’s as much as a celebration as it is a rebrand. It’s a celebration of two things: One is it has been a year since Machinima been apart of Warner Bros. And you know, being integrated into a company — that’s not an easy thing. And we’ve learned a lot and we’ve accomplished alot and it was time to reflect that to the world. The other thing is we’re evolving within Machinima itself. I think everybody thinks of Machinima as being a YouTube company — and we are not. We have evolved across multiple platforms: Twitch, Facebook, and those that are still coming in multiple ways. And we wanted to put a new face into the world on who Machinima is now.
Interactive video has steadily been increasing in popularity with apps like HQ helping lead the charge. What are your thoughts on interactive video and how has Machinima pushed into the format, if at all?
I’d say Twitch is maybe that first tip of the spear that surprised everyone. Everyone believed people would watch interactive short-form content digitally, but would you send 5 hours watching someone game and interact, because that’s the thing that’s different [with Twitch], right? You have that crazy chat going on, you have the host engaging while playing a game. And I think it’s been a really interesting learning for people who said that there was no long-form opportunity, and again long-form meaning just the hours accumulated.
We’ve been doing some interesting things even with Facebook live. We did this kind of crazy marketing promotion around the film “Geostorm.” We created the Geostorm gaming challenge. We brought in these influencers and we put them in climate rooms, because if you recall that movie was about the weather, much like today, going horrible and ruining the planet. So we had an ice room, we had a wind room, we had a thunder room, and these guys tried to compete. But what was fun about that was that online we we’re having people tell us what we should do with [the participants]. Should we freeze them? Should we blast them with hot air? And that engagement — to the point of having people feeling like they are a part of the action — is like replicating the live studio experience, but in a much broader, engaged way than just sitting there and applauding. So, I think there is something to [interactive].
What has surprised you the most since filling the role of GM at Machinima?
How hard it is to make money… and that’s one of the big lessons we’re having to share with a studio that sells all their content for tickets, social video is still an open place for: how do you monetize? And each [social platform] is different. YouTube you have an ad model [and] Twitch is more of a subscription model. And then the algorithms change and now you’re back to trying figure it out again. So, the walking and chewing gum of this business is how are you constantly trying new things and experimenting and understanding the platforms without going broke at the same time.
Why is Machinima essential to Warner Bros future?
We are the tip of the spear for the Warner Bros Shield. We are going to help them go into the digital landscape in a way that the company doesn’t know how to do. Even [with our studio], we have a constant flow of Warner bros executives who come over and their seeing what a social video studio looks like and how you do things fast, flexible, and inexpensively. Because it’s very different then what they’re use to.
Approximately five months ago Machinima launched a 24/7 “Always On” Twitch channel. What was the most difficult thing about launching a “network” on the platform?
I got nervous that we were devaluing the library, because if you’re putting something up, in essence for free, and only a few people are watching you’ve almost said ‘well its worthless’ when it isn’t not. So that is really what were rethinking right now, about what do you really program with and is it really wise to be exploiting all our years of content.