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SVG Sit-Down: VENN Co-CEO Ariel Horn Provides Update on Gaming-Lifestyle Network, What's Ahead for MTV of Gaming'

17/02/2021

SVG Sit-Down: VENN Co-CEO Ariel Horn Provides Update on Gaming-Lifestyle Network, What's Ahead for MTV of Gaming' New partnerships, new focus on short-form content are key for young 24/7 network By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

Wednesday, February 17, 2021 - 12:37 pm

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Since launching in August, VENN (Video Game Entertainment and News Network) has steadily made a name for itself as the first 24/7 gaming, esports, and entertainment network. However, although Gaming's Answer to MTV secured $26 million in Series A round financing, it is still looking for more-consistent viewership across its linear and VOD programming - especially since gaming and esports hit an all-time high as millions continue to quarantine at home during the pandemic.

VENN Co-CEO Ariel Horn

With that in mind, VENN has inked a series of distribution partnerships - including deals with Nexstar, Microsoft, The Roku Channel, Plex, and LG, Samsung, and VIZIO smart TVs - and announced a full slate of new programming for 2021, including Fan Controlled Football, FACECHECK, and Origin Stories. VENN also teamed up with esports entertainment company BLAST to help stream and produce its tournaments (beginning with the BLAST Premier Global Final in January).

SVG sat down for an in-depth conversation with VENN Co-CEO Ariel Horn - one of the pioneers of esports-broadcast production during his years at Riot Games - to discuss the latest news about the network, how his strategy has changed to focus more on short-form programming and esports, how the network's state-of-the-art production facility at Vista Studios in L.A. has performed so far, what worked and what didn't in 2020, and what's ahead for VENN in 2021 and beyond.

What is VENN's overall content strategy, and why did you see an opportunity in the market for something like this?

In August, we launched in the midst of a pandemic, which has its own set of interesting challenges to say the least. But our goal is to create a single-purpose brand that could unite the fragmented gaming market, which we believe advertisers are searching for right now. VENN is our attempt to take all the learnings that we've garnered from our years of building esports content with Riot, as well as our storytelling experience in traditional sports and apply that to what's coming next, which is the convergence of the gaming lifestyle and gaming competition. VENN has a bit of MTV flavor, but, especially moving forward into 2021, we will have more of a direct focus around the competitive side of gaming.

Can you provide an update on VENN's distribution so far and where the network is available to watch?

We have been built to be distributed broadly; we have no carriage fees, so we are not shackled like a traditional TV network. We can be everywhere we want to be - from Twitter and the social networks to YouTube and Twitch to linear [cable]. We have a very large distribution footprint already. We're universally distributed on all the connected TVs, Roku, and the major [streaming-video players], and we recently signed a deal with Rakuten to be distributed globally.

VENN's primary studio at Vista Studios

And we also have a rich network of syndication partnerships. We recently announced Nexstar, the largest single-broadcast-network group in the country, as a major partner. We've created a gaming hub to syndicate our gaming content - both video and text - across the websites of their 200 stations. And now we have a content-distribution partnership also with MSN.

How is VENN looking to evolve its content strategy in 2021?

We've created a super-broad network. When we launched, we focused almost exclusively on long-form content and a lot of it was live, which satisfied what advertisers were looking for but is also a pretty heavy lift and relatively expensive to create. We found it became a little bit harder to really focus on creating engagement growth through YouTube and the native platforms, where most of gamers are right now, while simultaneously focusing so much on long-form content.

The big change for this year is, while we will still be 100% supporting all of that long-form content and we're still really excited about the growth of that ecosystem, we're focused on a renewed effort around short-form content and optimization. We plan on using YouTube as the top of the funnel for engagement and then focusing on not just one channel for YouTube but actually three different channels based on the psychographic background of our audience.

And what will those three content channels be focused on?

The first channel, called Download, is going to be for core gamers to go deeper. The second is an esports-skewed channel for competitive gamers who are looking for news and talk around the esports world. And then there's our crossover channel called Place, which is more gaming-lifestyle-focused, as has been our brand promise from the start. We're really focused on investing sharply around these psychographic groups.

You mentioned focusing more on esports in 2021. Why do you see it as a growth area?

I'm interested in bridging the competitive tournament scene, which is primarily driven by somewhat costly broadcast rights like in traditional sports, and the more casual gamer. We want to be the bridge to build those audiences for esports. We want to work with the tournament organizers and, in some cases. even be a tournament distributor and production partner for those tournaments without those costly rights. We believe we can create a genuine one-two punch of competition and lifestyle that features storytelling, entertainment, and crossover content.

Inside the VENN's control room in LA

We think that's where we're going to see huge jumps this year. We already had an event
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2021/02/17/svg-sit-down-venn-co-ceo-ariel-...
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