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Digital Disney: Is Maker Studios becoming more “family-friendly”… or just going away completely?

Disney just doesn’t seem to know what to do with Maker Studios.

First, they fired the biggest YouTuber on the planet, PewDiePie, after he made some remarks most viewed as being anti-Semitic. Shortly thereafter, Disney and Maker seemed to be in full on panic mode as they threw 95% of their members overboard in an attempt to pare down the network to a more manageable (i.e. controllable) size.

Now, according to Variety, Disney’s plan for Maker Studios is to roll it into a much kinder, gentler, family-friendly digital content brand… one that will be watched like a hawk by Disney execs from here on out.

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All of this is likely an attempt to avoid another PR disaster like the PewDiePie debacle.

Maker + Disney Didn’t Win the Internet

Now, here’s a bit of backstory about what Maker Studios is, where Disney got involved, and what is going on going forward.

Maker Studios was started in 2009 by several big YouTubers as a way to better pool resources and cross-promote. Some of the founders included Shay Carl (of Shaytards fame), Kassem G and Lisa Donovan. Productions to come out of this network included Epic Rap Battles of History, as well as the Polaris gaming network, which included PewDiePie — YouTube’s most subscribed to channel.

Enter Disney, who was seemingly having trouble retaining young eyeballs on their cable networks. YouTube was what all the kids were watching these days, and while buying Google was completely unrealistic for Disney, they could essentially “buy” some of YouTube’s top talent by acquiring Maker Studios.

So Disney, led by former CFO Jay Rasulo, bought Maker Studios for $500 million in 2014 in an attempt to win the internet.

But it didn’t go quite according to plan, according to DigiDay.

“Disney saw the MCN gold rush, went prospecting and said, ‘we’re going to buy the biggest, shiniest one. If this becomes something, it’s worth having the biggest,’” said a former Maker exec. “I don’t think they knew what they were buying. And quite honestly, I don’t think there was much to buy.”

You see, Disney bought a pig in a poke. The vast majority of YouTube content creators weren’t generating any original IP that could be monetized via merchandise. The network was cluttered with Minecraft gameplay videos and pop culture parodies — not the sort of thing that Disney could slap on a t-shirt or bring to a theme park.

There were some attempts to generate original IP via internal content creation promotions, but nothing ever came about from those.*

There was talk of a Maker Studios reality TV show to highlight some of its creators, but that idea fizzled away as well.

Maker continued to hemorrhage money, executives came and went within a span of a few months, and the members become more and more agitated and restless while Disney tried to figure out what to do with this internet thing they dropped some serious coin on.

Then PewDiePie debacle happened and it became pretty clear — shut them up or shut it down.

Maker Be Gone?

With Maker “letting go” the vast majority of its members, Disney has decided to refocus Maker Studios as part of its “Disney Digital Network.” In other words, Disney is trying to win the internet by creating things in-house this time around.

With Disney Digital Network, the company will more actively concentrate on bringing Maker creators into Disney-branded content and vice versa, said Andrew Sugerman, executive VP of publishing and digital media for Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media. Sugerman assumed oversight of Maker Studios in a restructuring last December.

“Historically on the Disney Interactive Media side, our leaning into creators and influencers has been very light touch. We really focused only on Disney-branded endeavors,” said Sugerman in an interview with Variety prior to the event. “Whereas on the Maker side, influencers were really everything non-Disney-branded.”

Now, Sugerman said, “We’re going to infuse Maker into the Disney pieces, and Disney will be infused more into Maker.”

Now, I have it on pretty good authority from some people still with Maker* that the longterm strategy is to basically take the talent they can from Maker to work for Disney officially (you know, where they can be monitored and locked into an NDA and all that jazz) and eventually toss the rest since the brand has been severely damaged by both PewDiePie’s firing and the constant media scrutiny of how much the division has under-performed.

[Edit: It seems the Maker brand is all but tossed, save for Polaris.]

Going forward, Disney Digital Network will work to create Disney-focused content with and without Maker creator involvement. Think of it as the Disney Channel for YouTube. Really, they didn’t need Maker Studios at all to do this, but I suppose getting some established YouTubers to come on board who were already “kinda” working for the company via Maker couldn’t hurt.

Here’s what they’re planning going forward, via Variety

Organizationally, the Disney Digital Network portfolio is structured around six primary editorial brands:

  • Oh My Disney, digital destination for a daily dose of Disney, capturing the zeitgeist through a Disney lens.
  • Disney Style, exploring the intersection of Disney stories and characters with what’s trending in fashion, nail art, hairstyles and cosmetics.
  • Disney Family, aiming to bring parents and kids together through Disney crafts and DIY projects, recipes, and activities featuring Mouse House characters and stories.
  • Babble, parenting community site where contributors share their experiences and give readers a forum to bond and learn.
  • Polaris from Maker, featuring original content from a community of gaming personalities including talk shows, animation, and games-to-life content.
  • StarWars.com and the Star Wars app, the digital destinations for all things related to the galaxy far, far away. The network programs content for Star Wars fans of all ages across social and digital platforms.

Notice the only reference to Maker is “Polaris from Maker.” Polaris being Maker’s gaming network. HMMM.

And these channels will produce the following…

  • “Science and Star Wars”: Series that explores, explains, and demonstrates parallels between the Lucasfilm sci-fi epic and real-world scientific breakthroughs the saga has inspired. The IBM-sponsored series, hosted by Anthony Carboni, will feature IBM researchers, science experts, guest stars, and IBM’s Watson artificial-intelligence platform. It will run exclusively on Facebook through the Facebook Anthology branded-content program.
  • “Oh My Disney Show,” Season 2: Comedy, news, trends, and sketches combine in this always-on show built for Disney fans’ social feeds.
  • “Club Mickey Mouse”: Variety show celebrating the original show of yesteryear rebooted with a diverse cast of young creators (and, of course, everyone’s favorite mouse). Sponsored by HP and to stream on Facebook exclusively through Facebook Anthology.
  • “Disney IRL”: Oh My Disney brings iconic animated Disney characters and moments to real life, by surprising people on location and viewers at home.
  • “COIN”: Animated action-comedy on Maker’s Polaris with a game-inspired aesthetic that follows a team of misfits tasked to save their world. Brought together by time traveling robot Crohnobot, Donovan (a gruff plumber quick to anger), Kid Victory (a master of weaponry), and the Sisters Vicious (twin masters of illusion who hate each other) must defeat super-villain Gamovah and retrieve the coin of Chorder before it’s too late.
  • “Disney Design Challenge”: Young designers are invited to push the boundaries of their art form to create beautiful, innovative, and memorable works inspired by Disney films. In the first season, students in the fashion design program at Otis College of Art and Design create clothing lines inspired by Disney’s “Frozen.”
  • “Disney Magical Starts”: A show for the parents who want to spend more time creating experiences with their kids, but don’t know where to start. In the show, parents and their kids provide ideas and tips for events ranging from the holidays to back-to-school.

Again, lots of Disney, not much Maker. RIP Maker.

Anyway, that’s what Disney is planning doing forward as its digital strategy. Interesting to note the increased focus on Facebook, as Facebook video is becoming a serious contender to YouTube.

*Disclaimer

I am a former member of Maker Studios myself. While we were always treated pretty fairly by them — and were even involved in some of those content creation promotions — not everyone was happy there (an understatement if you’ve ever visited their forums) and communication toward the end of our term was practically non-existent. Clearly something had to be done to try and salvage the investment, and I suppose Disney thought this was the best course of action.

However, the internet is a strange beast and it doesn’t like to be constrained by corporate strategizing. Many freewheeling individual content creators recognize that, but I’m not sure companies like Disney “get it” just yet.

Meanwhile, nothing Disney does in-house will likely ever have the views that those bizarre, very unofficial Elsa and Spiderman cosplay videos have.

I mean, really?

What are your thoughts? Comment below or in the forums!

[Photos: Disney, YouTube]

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  1. […] Disney’s official YouTube efforts pale in comparison to the audience and revenue generated by these bootleg videos. In fact, Disney has been having a really hard time figuring out how to make a go of YouTube, going so far as to consolidate floundering Maker Studios into a new Disney digital initiative. […]

  2. […] Twitter itself hasn’t been doing too hot lately, so I’m not sure if a Disney acquisition would help. But pretty much everyone on the planet has used the platform and it would be a golden opportunity for Disney to tap into a massive userbase. It would certainly make more sense than acquiring Maker Studios did. […]

  3. […] from Disney-owned Maker Studios for making anti-Semitic videos in a PR black eye that was so bad, Disney reorganized the entire digital division and dropped the Maker […]

  4. […] has no qualms pruning profitable companies if they aren’t profitable […]

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