Disney and Dreamworks Animation Are Making Big Bets on YouTube Growth

The big news for Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) this past week was its acquisition of Maker Studios. The media giant is paying up to $950 million for the popular YouTube video network. The move represents how media companies continue to place big bets on YouTube networks to tap new audiences and gain original material.

Disney buys Maker Studios
Disney is paying $500 million for Maker Studios, with the additional possibility of up to $450 million in bonuses down the road. Maker Studios is the top online video network for "Millenials" and continues to have strong numbers. The company has 55,000 channels with over 380 million combined subscribers. The networks see 5.5 billion views per month.

Maker Studios will complement Disney's Interactive business segment. The unit includes Disney.com, which is the No. 1 kids' website, and Club Penguin, which is the No. 1 virtual world for kids. The unit also includes the Disney Infinity video game and the Babble website. Disney's strong portfolio for kids will now get a lift as it turns its attentions to parents and a more mature audience.

Dreamworks Animation makes an awesome investment
In May of 2013, Dreamworks Animation (NASDAQ: DWA  ) acquired teen YouTube network AwesomenessTV. The acquisition was done for $33 million in cash from Dreamworks, with a possible additional $117 million in payments based on key metrics. At the time of the acquisition, AwesomenesTV had 55,000 channels, 14 million subscribers, and over 800 million total video views.

During Dreamworks Animation's last earnings call, the company showed the growth the network has seen since it was acquired. Ten months after the acquisition, AwesomenessTV had seen video views increase 300% to 3.2 billion. Total subscribers increased 160% to 37 million. This strong growth has now led Dreamworks to believe it will owe $97 million in additional payments to the former owners of AwesomenessTV.

The investment seems to be paying off for Dreamworks Animation, and is one of many steps the company is making to diversify away from its animated movies. The company currently releases two to three movies a year, which make up the bulk of revenue and profits. Dreamworks is shifting into other segments like books, theme parks, and consumer products to diversify. The AwesomenessTV acquisition complements its other segment, which is estimated to see $34 million in full-year revenue.

Time Warner making strategic investments
Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) was one of the winners in the Maker Studios acquisition. Back in 2012, Time Warner led a $36 million funding round for Maker Studios. According to All Things Digital, Time Warner paid $25 million at a valuation of $200 million. This would give Time Warner a 12% stake in Maker Studios. With a possible buyout of $950 million, Time Warner could see up to $114 million for its stake in Maker Studios--not bad for a $25 million investment 15 months ago.

Back in March, Warner Brothers also invested in Machinima,a YouTube network. The company led a $18 million investment on a valuation round believed to give Machinima a value of $200 million. Machinima was looking to raise up to $75 million last year at a valuation of $600 million. The company has now raised over $50 million in funding from the likes of Time Warner and Google.

Machinima gets billions of views a month across its network. The company is also trying to diversify away from Google's YouTube network as it makes videos that are also available on the Microsoft XBOX platforms.

Conclusion
Investors looking to capitalize on the growth of YouTube could invest in Google, the giant that paid $1.65 billion back in 2006 to acquire the video network. However, YouTube seems buried in Google's large portfolio of assets and huge advertising revenue base. Emarketer estimates YouTube had revenue of $5.6 billion in 2013. The site remains the third most visited website in the U.S. behind Google and Facebook.

I prefer investing in media companies like Disney, Dreamworks Animation, and Time Warner to take advantage of the demand for YouTube networks and original content. These companies target key teen and millennial audiences that spend hours online daily looking for funny videos and then proceed to share them. All of these investments will pay off for their acquirers. Time Warner may see the best profit, with Maker already being bought out and the possibility of the same happening with Machinima. 

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