Awesomeness, the digital studio that was a poster child for the early days of YouTube channel mania, has been sold to Viacom for $25 million—after being valued at $650 million just two years ago.
The move comes as a number of so-called multi-channel networks (MCNs), are facing belt tightening and layoffs. Spanish-language digital studio Mitu recently laid off 30% of its staff, and its president and CEO stepped down as the company seeks a road to profitability.
Along with companies like Fullscreen and Maker Studios, Awesomeness represented the frontier of online video nearly a decade ago. As new-age digital studios, Awesomeness and its peers were nimble startups that had figured out how to monetize user-generated videos on YouTube. They were also sticky brands that resonated with millennials. Naturally, Hollywood came calling. Disney bought Maker in 2014 for a whopping $675 million, and DreamWorks Animation scooped up Awesomeness for $117 a year earlier. (Later, Hearst and and Verizon acquired stakes in the company, which came under the Comcast umbrella when NBCUniversal bought DWA in 2016.) Otter Media took majority ownership of Fullscreen.
But the marriages have proven to be complex. Last year, Maker went through a major overhaul, including massive layoffs, as Disney continued to struggle to synergize the studio, and generate profits from it. As for Awesomeness, it was producing short-form content for Verizon’s go90 platform, which is shutting down this month. Meanwhile, CEO and founder Brian Robbins left early last year to run Viacom’s youth-oriented production division, Paramount Players.
With more than 158 million subscribers, Awesomeness still has a sizable audience, which Viacom will seek to optimize alongside its other youth brands, such as MTV and Nickelodeon. And the purchase fits in with the company’s expanding digital strategy, which has led to the recent purchases of WhoSay, the digital, branded-content company, and VidCon, the YouTube events company. Last year, Viacom tapped Awesomeness executive Kelly Daly to run its new Viacom Digital Studios group.