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TheGrill Update: Brian Robbins’ AwesomenessTV, From MCN to NBCU

As we prep for this September’s seventh annual TheGrill conference, we recap insights and opinions from last year’s panels on the changing media landscape

What has happened to Brian Robbins‘ AwesomenessTV since last year’s Grill keynote?

A thing or two. In April, NBCUniversal acquired AwesomenessTV as part of a $3.8 billion acquisition of parent company DreamWorks Animation.

Meanwhile, Robbins’ division has matured into more than an MCN. “Today we really look at ourselves as a traditional media company,” the founder said at last year’s Grill conference, explaining why he avoids the term “MCN,” or “Multi-Channel Network.”

“We make film, we make television, we have a record label, consumer products, publishing,” Robbins said. “And we have an MCN.”

Robbins’ company has now been acquired twice in four years, first by Jeffrey Katzenberg‘s DreamWorks and now by Stephen Burke’s NBCUniversal.

Clearly, Robbins has tapped into something that traditional content companies covet.

“We felt like the traditional studios were ignoring this teen demo,” said Robbins. “There used to be films once a quarter that were geared towards teens.”

Robbins founded AwesomenessTV as a single YouTube channel in June 2012, quickly expanded to a network of channels and one year later, the company was acquired by DreamWorks Animation for $33 million in one of the earliest acquisitions of a digital network by a traditional media company.

With most major studios allocating the lion’s share of film budget towards large-scale franchises, a network like AwesomenessTV offers precisely the type of young audience that studios are perpetually afraid of losing.

“Companies like us, Vice, Buzzfeed, these are next generation media brands that are talking to a young audience in an authentic, real way and giving them what they want, how they want it, on the devices they want to watch it on.”

In the last five years, acquisitions of digital networks have become a popular way for traditional media companies to draw in young audiences worldwide. Disney bought Maker Studios in 2014, Fullscreen sold a majority stake to an AT&T/The Chernin Group joint venture and Warner Bros. led both of Machinima’s most recent rounds of funding.

Robbins says that the key is focusing on the network’s strengths. “”With so many exciting opportunities, it is really important that we don’t spread ourselves too thin and just take advantage of those that will drive our core business-the Awesomeness brand-forward,” he said.

In the three years since its acquisition by DreamWorks, AwesomenessTV’s network of YouTube channels has grown from 14 million to over 150 million subscribers on a network of 90,000 channels.

“We’ve gone from 8 people to 300 people in the organization,” said Robbins. “We’ve gone from being a YouTube channel to a company that’s going to make 6 long-form movies this year, and has TV series running on multiple networks.”

AwesomenessTV just began production on a behind-the-scenes film featuring Broadway singer, American Idol finalist and YouTube star Todrick Hall. They also recently signed a deal with Mario Lopez, under which the actor will host a channel on AwesomenessTV’s Awestruck, a lifestyle network targeting millennial moms. Awestruck’s videos are distributed on YouTube, Facebook, and Verizon’s Go90 video service.

TheGrill looks forward to welcoming a panel of top video leaders in 2016 to talk about the ongoing balancing act between existing business models and digital opportunities.

Visit http://thegrill.thewrap.com/ for information about this year’s conference.