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This $650 million media startup is on 31 platforms, but its CMO says Snapchat is the most innovative

Nathan McAlone
T.J. Marchetti awesomenesstv

(T.J. Marchetti, AwesomenessTV CMOAwesomenessTV)
AwesomenessTV built its $650 million teen-centric video empire primarily on YouTube, but has since spread to have shows on 31 platforms — from Netflix to go90 to Kik.

And to T.J. Marchetti, AwesomenessTV’s CMO, the most innovative of the bunch right now is Snapchat.

“YouTube was a place for us to start, fish where the fish are,” Marchetti told Business Insider.

The idea was to gain a massive following among Gen Z, particularly teen women. YouTube was perfect for that, but it doesn’t make sense to be confined to one platform, and AwesomenessTV is getting onto as many as possible.

Enter Snapchat, which is the “most innovative media platform there is right now,” according to Marchetti. He credited that to Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and his team on the product side. “They are in LA for a reason,” he said; they are challenging what a media company looks like and chasing TV dollars.

Snapchat had its IPO in March, and has bounced around since then. One concern for investors has been competition from Facebook and its owned properties, like Instagram, which have continued to roll out features aping Snapchat. 

That doesn't bother Marchetti. "The feature convergence of Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and messengers doesn't really matter much," he said. Why? "Snapchat is aggressively thinking forward."

There is, however, a caveat to that. "But as a marketer, it's all about who can I target, in what context and how creative we can be to tell our story," Marchetti said. "In that arena, the Facebook and Instagram platform is currently more mature." But give Snapchat time.

As to what a show for Snapchat will look like in the future, Marchetti said AwesomenessTV is looking toward its audience as the guide. “We use Snapchat just like our demo does,” he said. But they are still experimenting. “I don’t pretend to have the answer.” 

The hybrid

Marchetti said AwesomenessTV will continue breaking down the wall between marketing and production. When working as a TV and film exec, Marchetti saw that there was, in both mediums, a chasm between production and marketing and sales.

“Part of impetus [for working for AwesomenessTV] was how do I challenge the way we structure things,” he said. “How we cast a show needs to be how we market the show.” That means baking social media “influencers” into the cast, so you have a built-in audience. The social media presence of those stars — blogging, vlogging, and so on — can draw the right demographic in.

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Hannah Macpherson, the creator of the AwesomenessTV show “t@gged” that ran on Verizon’s go90, explained what that was like.

“I was a little resistant to auditioning YouTubers,” Macpherson said, but some of them ended up being great, and were cast in "t@gged." AwesomenessTV has “almost an algorithm” for determining how many YouTube stars versus traditional actors to put in a project, she said. “It is literally a percentage.” 

But relying on social media stars can have downsides, as Disney and YouTube found out earlier this year, when they cut business ties with YouTube’s biggest star, PewDiePie, after a report from The Wall Street Journal about his anti-Semitic jokes. Stars that grew up on YouTube are used to a freedom that can sometimes become a liability.

“It’s a risk we take,” Marchetti said. But at the rate AwesomenessTV produces content, there’s not much of a gap. “We have a much shorter window by which things can evolve too much [in a bad way].” Still, “they can” evolve too much, Marchetti said, and “they have” on certain occasions.

“You have to go into it eyes wide open,” he said.

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