Warner Bros.’s digital video site Machinima rebranded this week as it makes a bigger push to expand beyond its YouTube roots to all the new platforms where gamers celebrate their culture.
Since Warner Bros. bought Machinima in 2016, the division has shifted away from its traditional network and grown to more than 140 million subscribers for its various shows like Mortal Kombat: Legacy.
But competition from influencers of all types has been growing as well. I talked with Russell Arons, general manager of Machinima, about those trends in an interview this week.
“We have always been about influencers. We are evolving around the platforms that our influencers are reaching,” Arons said. “Machinima from its early foundation was a YouTube company. We have evolved to Facebook, and now, we have a lot of programming on Twitch.”
Machinima is all about transforming gamer culture from a niche into mass entertainment, and it doesn’t hurt that games have become a $116 billion industry, according to market researcher Newzoo.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: How is the life at Machinima?
Russell Arons: It’s great. It’s something familiar and something really new, which is kind of the theme of this discussion about a rebrand. We took what people know, which is the name, and we put a new twist on it.
GamesBeat: Tell me more about that.
Arons: It’s the resolution of a couple of things. One is taking the opportunity to look at Machinima’s future path and tighten our focus, message our forward direction, but also to celebrate the integration of Machinima into Warner Bros., which happened about a year ago. The company was officially acquired last January. All the good stuff that’s come as we’ve brought Machinima’s expertise in social media to the amazing heritage of Warner Bros. in entertainment.
GamesBeat: You’re realizing the benefits of the acquisition now?
Arons: Exactly. Warner Bros., when they first acquired Machinima, I think there was an awareness along the lines of, “We don’t know what we don’t know in the landscape of digital media.” The team has done a great job of becoming a partner to different divisions across the company, whether it’s been working with Warner Bros. Pictures or other groups. We’re providing them with services and kind of really fast and flexible content production that they didn’t have before. We’ve also done quite [a] lot of projects with gaming as well.
GamesBeat: Is there a way of figuring out what percentage of your business at Machinima is games now versus other things?
Arons: One of the re-prioritizations we’ve gone through is we’re very focused on the gamer audience. In the time from 2013 to 2016, the company had come to be more generally about fandom, but coming from my background at WB Games, my thinking was that the gaming audience was a great one to be focused on. More than ever, we’re reaching out to the top game publishers and game IP holders to secure the rights to take their game stories, characters, and environments and put them into digital content series, whether it’s animation or live action or machinima.
GamesBeat: How do you think you fit in this new world of influencers, all these YouTube stars and other people making a living on video and live streaming?
Arons: We sort of invented that game. Machinima was the first large-scale organization around influencers to help them monetize and reach bigger audiences. We’ve always been hip to the influencer thing. What we’re evolving is around the platforms our influences are reaching. Machinima from its foundation was a YouTube platform company by and large. Over the years, we’ve evolved toward Facebook, and most recently, we now have a lot of programming on Twitch. As a matter of fact, we’re one of 10 selected partners that Twitch reached out to … launch a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week channel. We’re going to all the platforms that are relevant to gamers, bringing both our own content and our influencers’ content as well.
GamesBeat: What else is interesting about tomorrow’s presentation?
Arons: It’s kind of a multi-tiered announcement and rebranding. First, you’ll see Machinima’s visual identity change across all of our channels. That’s how we’re reaching out to our fans. The way we’re reaching out to your talent network and our influencers, we’ve selected some of our top influencers to get a bit of counter-programming to Valentine’s Day. We think gamers need love, so we’re sending them giant boxes of chocolates with the new Machinima branding. We’re hoping they’ll be talking about that with their fans.
This is also about us really stepping out within Warner Bros. for a bit of an internal celebration. If you came and saw the studio, you’d see that Machinima will now be on one of the giant billboards on Olive Avenue, right next to Dunkirk and Ellen DeGeneres. We’re definitely now a part of the Warner Bros. family. Our brand is contributing as its own stand-alone entity.
GamesBeat: What represents your goal here? How would you define success a year from now?
Arons: One thing is you can look at some things as a cautionary tale. We certainly took the Maker integration into Disney and analyzed what worked and what didn’t there. We want to be sure that Machinima both retains its identity and provides value to Warner Bros. in a more beneficial end state for both companies.
What I hope you’ll see a year from now is the Machinima brand feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, not just because we have a new logo and a new color but because we have continued to partner with brands and advertisers who want to reach gamers. And because we’ve re-established ourselves with our fans because we’re now programming our content at all major gaming events, bringing our influencers to the big gaming shows and creating our own programming so that we’ve reconnected with our fanbase.
Also, more and more, you’ll see Machinima supporting Warner Bros. not just in the digital networks business but in every division, whether it’s creating social media content for them or helping them launch onto new platforms. We’ve learned the best way for you to, say, get on Twitch or launch a new channel on YouTube.
GamesBeat: If you look at what’s going to be big this year, is [Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (WBIE)] going to use you guys in a very particular way? Will you be a big part of E3 or other events?
Arons: Naturally, we want to support their slate, which is a fabulous breadth of everything from Lego games to a game like [Middle-earth:] Shadow of War, not to mention their expansion into mobile. You’ve heard their announcements around the partnership with Niantic and Wizards Unite. We want to help WBIE reach their audience through custom content and programming in any way we can. We’re just in the planning phases of that right now.
The other thing I want to say, lest it sound like we’re only in service to other Warner Bros. divisions, we also want to be agnostic in terms of our gaming partners. We’re very much in discussion with all sorts of game IP and game publishers. It’s not just exclusive to WBIE.
GamesBeat: Is E3 your biggest thing of the year, or are there other things that could be bigger?
Arons: The definition of “bigger” is interesting. We’re focusing around the fighting game community because we see that as an underserved audience with so many great games. Obviously you have WBIE’s own Mortal Kombat and Injustice but also Dragon Ball Z and Tekken and Street Fighter.
We’re excited about the program we’re doing around our Body Count Fighting franchise, our live streamed — it’s taking a nod from what’s been done successfully in boxing and WWE. We create a fight card and grudges and matches between the people our fans want to see play each other, and we bring them to the Machinima studio. We do it in another location with a boxing ring. It feels a bit more accessible and inviting as an esports format than MOBAs and first-person shooters can be for a general audience. That’s a new direction in programming for us that’s different than just appearing at an E3 or a PAX event and having our programming streamed from there.
The essence of what we’re doing is an evolution. It’s not throwing out what Machinima has been. It’s honing our focus. It’s providing that value to Warner Bros. and taking our own value from what the company can bring us. Tomorrow is just the coming out for all of that.