Calling it the “next natural step” in the evolution of its youth-oriented service Much, Bell Media is creating a new multi-channel network (MCN) called Much Digital Studios.
In development for the past year, Much Digital Studios will employ Canadian and international YouTube creators spanning multiple content sectors, including music, fashion and beauty, gaming and travel.
Its late spring arrival is timed to coincide with the MMVA’s, one of the marquee events on the Much calendar. Justin Stockman, vice-president of specialty channels for Bell Media, said it could feature as many as 100 channels by year’s end.
Creators will have access to five studio spaces within Bell Media’s downtown Toronto studio facility, including a new street-front studio dedicated to the venture. While free of the Cancon rules that govern its namesake’s TV operations, Much Digital Studios will work primarily with Canadian content creators said Stockman.
The entity will employ a revenue sharing model weighted towards creators. While some YouTube creators have rebelled against what they feel are bad contracts, particularly when it comes to revenue sharing, Bell is looking to employ what Stockman called a “boutique” approach that differentiates it from larger MCNs – some of which work with literally thousands of creators.
“We have a large media brand that extends well beyond YouTube that we have to protect, so we can’t take advantage of fans of the brand,” he said.
Much Digital Studios will also provide advertisers with branded content integration opportunities, with the company providing access to “digital stars and influencers” both online and on-air via branded interstitial content. The company said these opportunities will enable brands to connect with Much’s core 12-34 demo with increased precision.
The new entity will boast what Stockman called a “top tier” of creators who will be the new “faces of Much,” and whose content is expected to account for most of the advertiser activity. The initial launch will feature between five to 10 of these higher-profile personalities, he said.
Stockman said Bell’s brand partnership team is actively assembling sponsorship packages that have garnered a “great response” from potential clients. “We know a lot of clients want to work with influencers and have that authentic connection between their product and our audience, and this is the perfect vehicle,” he said.
Content generated by Much Digital Studios will be housed on the service’s newly revamped Much.ca website, where it will reside alongside current on-air programming, as well as music videos and interviews.
MCN’s have become a key area of focus for traditional media companies in recent months, as viewing – particularly among younger consumers – continues to migrate online and towards short-form content.
The Walt Disney Company acquired Maker Studios for a reported US$500 million in 2014, while in Canada, Blue Ant Media paid an undisclosed sum for music-focused MCN Omnia Media, which has an estimated 40 million subscribers worldwide and boasts an estimated 550 million monthly digital video impressions.
In September, Corus Entertainment led a $12 million Series C funding round for Kin, a seven-year-old Santa Monica company that specializes in female-focused lifestyle content.
Stockman said it made more sense for Bell Media to build its digital offering on the back of a known TV/web entity like Much, which he said is familiar both to consumers and advertising clients. “Our primary objective is to expand the Much brand more than it is to grow an MCN business from scratch,” he said.
In a 2014 report titled The rise of multi-channel networks: Critical capabilities for the new digital video ecosystem, consultancy Strategy& – the global management consulting arm of PricewaterhouseCoopers – said MCN’s provide a valuable entry point into digital for traditional broadcasters.
“Through the lens of MCNs, media companies can master the digital video ecosystem, while at the same time using their own capabilities to improve the MCN business model,” the report stated.
The report attributed the rise of the MCN to YouTube, which accounts for an estimated 63% of all videos watched around the world, attracting 1 billion monthly unique visitors who watch more than six billion hours of video content each month.