Top YouTube women’s network Kin Community recently scored a coup when they signed up Rosanna Pansino, Wayne Goss and Joy Cho as partners. The three join a roster headlined by Ellen DeGeneres’ “The Ellen Show” channel, whose presence alone makes the Kin stable pretty epic even without the big additions of Pansino and Goss, who bring with them 1.3 million+ followers each.
At the very head of the Kin Community network is DECA cofounder and CEO Michael Wayne. DECA is a digital media production company aimed at women, and Kin Community is their network arm formed last year after YouTube cut funding for the Kin Community channel, which was a part of the first wave of channels in the streaming video company’s Original Channel Initiative. The Kin Community network which sprung from that seeming loss has come to be one of the leading specialty MCNs popping up as of late and represents a wide array of diverse talents targeting women viewers on YouTube. The network scores 150 million+ collective views from over 25 million unique viewers per month and have also made smart investments in properties like Smosh.com and Pemberley Digital, the studio behind “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.”
Of course, all of that success has undoubtedly been helped by the fact that Wayne is no slouch in the credentials and connections department — he’s served as vice president of Sony Pictures’ television and digital divisions, and he’s been elected as the president of the International Academy of Web Television, an entity that maybe sounds a little too serious right now but one that we’ll probably all be more aware in the future as digital series make up more and more of our entertainment-viewing lives. So that’s all to say that Wayne has been on the digital series bandwagon for a while now, which is why you should read my interview with him below to find out exactly how Kin Community signed up to be “The Ellen Show’s” YouTube network, the story behind the founding of DECA and his thoughts on YouTube’s Original Channels Initiative.
How did you come to found DECA, a digital content company for women? What’s the origin story there?
Michael Wayne: I was drawn to storytelling and content at an early age. From high school on, I was involved in entrepreneurial endeavors, so it wasn’t out of left field that I ended up starting an online video company.
After working at a start-up called LAUNCH in the late 90s, where streaming music videos was a big part of our business, I became fascinated with how media companies would be disrupted by new technology. Then I spent over four years at Sony Pictures working on digital projects, which ultimately lead me to start DECA in the summer of 2007. The question we were trying to answer then is the same question we work on every day now: How do you build a world-class content and media business in a marketplace of “abundance” where there are very few barriers to entry?
We didn’t originally intend for DECA to be a digital content company for women. About a year after we started, we decided to focus the business on lifestyle content for women’s audiences for a few reasons: women were underserved by online video, we had success with a women’s initiative we had launched and the economy was heading off a cliff. Building a content business for women felt like an enormous and important opportunity. We still believe that today.
What do you think are the distinctive qualities that set Kin Community apart from other women’s networks on YouTube?
Kin Community’s goal is to make women feel something emotionally and to inspire them. We do that through the content we create and through our partners’ content. We have a rule that we will never sacrifice quality for scale. We also believe in personal, high-touch partner management, which means we need to keep the number of partners we have relatively small (~60). Before networks on YouTube were created, we were working with major brand advertisers. Those relationships have served our channel partners and us well.
How selective is Kin Community in signing partners? Are there essential qualities Kin looks for?
Kin Community is very selective in signing partners. Our partners have quality brands, highly engaged and growing audiences and, for the most part, want to make being a creator their life’s work. We work hard to empower them to do this. Our partners want to learn, grow and make their brands better, and they share our values. It can be very isolating being a content creator on YouTube. We want our partners to feel like they are part of something bigger and more meaningful.
One of our partners, Pemberley Digital, won an Emmy this year for “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” – the bar is pretty high now.
What was your reaction when YouTube cut off funding of Kin Community last year?
It was not unexpected that YouTube stopped funding Kin Community this year. YouTube gave us a lot of money to start Kin Community, which is now the flagship brand of our company. I’m eternally grateful that they gave us the opportunity.
Do you think YouTube’s Original Channel Initiative has been overall a success, or something else?
I can’t speak for other channel owners or YouTube, but for us, the Original Channel Initiative was a success — we learned a ton and got to create Kin. Overall, I believe the initiative brought attention to YouTube as a platform for a wide array of brand advertisers. That attention should give way to real advertising investments over the next few years, which is good for YouTube, MCNs and content creators.
How did Kin Community come about signing Ellen? She’s probably the biggest moneymaker on YouTube.
We have known the folks at Warner Brothers TV for years. After expanding Kin Community to be an MCN (beyond just a funded channel), we identified a few channels that we thought best represented the values of the community we wanted to build. Ellen was clearly one of them. Also, we had been working with many of the best brands that reach women through online video: Target, General Mills, P&G, Unilever, to name a few. We are able to provide Warner Brothers TV sales support because of our laser focus on female demographics and our history with major brands.
How do you see Kin Community growing over time? Is it a good time to be in the MCN business?
Today Kin Community inspires, entertains and makes women feel connected around the world. Our short-term goals include growing the number of partners we work with, investing in channels and working with more advertising brands that want to engage with women through online video. Our long-term goal is to create a global community that reaches hundreds of millions of women. Primarily, we will do this through online video, but recently we expanded to books and merchandise. Where it makes sense, we will explore new products, platforms and revenue streams for our talent and brands.
Being an MCN is one facet of our overall business. YouTube has made it more advantageous for MCNs that sell directly to brands at high-CPMs, which thankfully we do. We see YouTube as the best platform for creators and their audiences to engage and connect around quality online video anywhere in the world. That is what Kin Community is all about.