Machinima

Source: The New York Times

News Corporation is holding a fire sale for IGN, its online network aimed at guys. Disney XD, a cable channel for boys, is growing in popularity — among girls. Comcast’s game-focused G4 channel is retooling its entire programming strategy.

Where are all the “lost boys,” as analysts sometimes call them? Increasingly, the answer involves Machinima.

Intensely focused on 18- to 34-year-old men, Machinima is a Web and mobile distribution network that delivers free game-oriented shows, trailers and news reports. The company, founded in 2000, generates more than 2.2 billion video views a month, according to comScore data. Machinima Prime, a YouTube channel that arrived in August and is dedicated to highly polished episodic series, ranked as the video hub’s No. 1 destination this month.

Despite their escalating reluctance to watch television or go to the movies, young men continue to flock to traditional outlets like Disney’s ESPN or Viacom’s Comedy Central.

And Machinima is certainly not the only online network where young men congregate; Break Media operates testosterone-heavy sites like MadeMan.com and HolyTaco.com.

But Machinima has rapidly evolved into a must-visit site for young men by improving the quality of its programming. The company’s mission is not dissimilar to that of cable channels: gain a foothold with inexpensive content (in Machinima’s case it was user-generated videos) and then use that perch to attract higher-quality programs, as AMC did with “Mad Men.”

Ultimately, Machinima intends to produce its own long-form episodic series.

First, Machinima must prove that YouTube can indeed become the new television — that consumers will watch long videos and come back the next week for another episode. In many ways, Machinima just pulled that off with “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn,” a five-part live-action series.

“Forward Unto Dawn,” which cost Microsoft $10 million to make and was meant to promote the release of the game Halo 4 on Xbox, has been viewed about 27 million times; four related videos delivered 9.2 million additional views. Machinima also said it experienced very little viewer “fall off,” an industry term for people leaving after watching only a couple of minutes.

Fans understand that this kind of programming is really marketing masquerading as entertainment, said Allen DeBevoise, Machinima’s chief executive. But he contended that “high-quality content is better marketing than traditional advertising; if it’s the equivalent of what people would watch on their own anyway, fans really appreciate that.”

Halo 4 had $220 million in global sales in its first 24 hours in stores.

“If you’re a marketer and not paying serious attention to Machinima, you’re really behind the curve,” said Matt Britton, a founder of MRY, a youth-focused New York marketing firm. “College kids may not be bringing TVs to their dorm rooms anymore, but Machinima, because it has smartly built itself around YouTube, is right there on their laptops.”

NBCUniversal recently decided Machinima was the best way to bring one of its TV movies to consumers. “Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome,” a prequel to the Syfy channel’s 2004 “Battlestar Galactica” series, was cut into 10 episodes and is rolling out on Machinima Prime. “Blood and Chrome” will then run on Syfy next year as a two-hour movie.

Warner Brothers is completing a programming deal with Machinima for a new series tied to its Mortal Kombat game franchise. “Mortal Kombat: Legacy,” a nine-part series, ran on Machinima last year, and at least one installment captured over 10 million views — on par with viewership for some fantasy programs on television.

Machinima, which is based in Los Angeles and makes money by selling advertising, got its start in 2000 as a Web site dedicated to a genre of digital filmmaking that uses video game graphics to create original animated movies.

In 2005, Mr. DeBevoise and his brother, Philip, bought the Web site and set about turning it into a global entertainment network. It has about 200 employees and secured a $35 million round of financing in May; the company declined to discuss revenue or profitability.

Mr. DeBevoise said about 50 percent of Machinima’s total traffic now came from overseas. The company — with backing from MK Capital, Redpoint Ventures and Google, which owns YouTube — also has a significant presence on mobile devices.

Machinima Prime is part of YouTube’s strategy, started a year ago, to lure television viewers and advertisers with higher-quality videos, even if aimed at niche interests.

YouTube invested about $100 million in the overall effort — Machinima received an undisclosed portion — and in recent weeks YouTube began evaluating which channels had done well enough to receive a second round of financing.

In addition to Machinima Prime, YouTube successes include AwesomenessTV, aimed at 12- to 17-year-olds, and Vice, which also courts young men. In an e-mail, Malik Ducard, YouTube’s director of content strategy, called Machinima “a great example of how a Web brand with a laserlike focus on serving a single audience can drive massive eyeballs.”

Mr. Ducard added that YouTube partners like Machinima, sometimes dismissed as niche players, were adding subscribers at a rate “four times faster” than they did just a couple of years ago.

“Niche may not be the right word because that may sound small,” he said. “Billions of views is not small.”

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