Disney Acquires Maker Studios For $500M

For the past two weeks rumors have been circulating, suggesting that The Walt Disney Company is in talks with YouTube Multi-Channel Network Maker Studios about a possible acquisition.

Now, we know the rumors were true and the deal is done. As first reported by Re/Code, Disney has acquired Maker Studios for $500 million, with a performance-based earn-out (bonus) that could earn Maker shareholders an extra $450 million. Meaning the total price Disney pays could hit $950 million.

“Short-form online video is growing at an astonishing pace and with Maker Studios, Disney will now be at the center of this dynamic industry with an unmatched combination of advanced technology and programming expertise and capabilities,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said in the press release announcing the acquisition.

In January 2014, online measurement company comScore tracked 25.8 million unique U.S. viewers of Maker Studios content, making it the fourth-largest YouTube Network by unique views, after VEVO, ZEFR, and Fullscreen.

The deal represents a premium of more than $300 million over the company’s most recent valuation in September, 2013 – When it raised $26 million to fund its expansion outside of the U.S.

Digital studios like Maker are hot property for media conglomerates like Disney because they are creating the content that is drawing audiences away from their televised content. With a sizable audience across the entire world and the ability to pull in premium ad and sponsorship dollars to support their talent, digital studios represent the next generation of media that is currently developing across the internet and an acquisition is the easiest way for a large company to gain access to that market. Just last year teen-interest network AwesomenessTV was acquired by DreamWorks for $33 million. However, shareholders could receive an additional $117 in cash bonuses if AwesomenessTV meets their performance targets.

Maker Studios was founded in the summer of 2009 by a group of YouTube creators who hoped to leverage each other’s audiences, pool equipment and resources, and increase the number of subscribers and views each creator could pull in. Lisa Donovan (LisaNova), Danny Zappin (DannyDiamond), Ben Donovan (TheBDonski), Kassem Gharaibeh (KassemG), Shay Butler (ShayCarl/ShayTards), David Colditz (DaveDays), Philip DeFranco (sxephil), and Shane Dawson were among those involved in Maker when it started; each driving views and subscribers to Maker’s first collaborative channel ‘The Station.’

Many of Maker’s founding creators left after only a few months, citing professional and creative differences with Lisa Donovan, Ben Donovan, and Danny Zappin, who made up the leadership team of the fledgling company. However, that didn’t stop Maker’s phenomenal growth after they stumbled onto a business model that would eventually be emulated by many other major players in new media.

Maker now represents thousands of YouTube channels, including the No.1 most subscribed person on YouTube Felix Kjellberg (better known as PewDiePie). Collectively, Maker partners have over 340 million subscribers, and are viewed more than 4.5 billion times every month.

Maker has been supported along the way with almost $70 million dollars from prominent Venture Capital firms, including Time Warner Ventures, Greycroft Partners, Lakestar, and Upfront Ventures. Maker’s executive chairman Ynon Kreiz, who was brought on board just a few months before Maker’s controversial founding CEO Danny Zappin was ousted from the company, has also personally invested a significant amount of his own money into the company. Before joining Maker, he was the CEO of Endemol, one of the largest television production companies in the world.

This deal is expected to close in Disney’s third fiscal quarter, sometime before September 27, 2014. A lot of YouTubers own stock in Maker Studios, so expect to see a few of your favorite ‘tubers living the good life very soon.

David La Rosa

Recovering YouTube Junkie.