Culture Machine, a digital video company founded by former Disney-UTV exec Sameer Pitalwalla and former YouTube exec Venkat Prasad has raised a Series A round of funding led by Zodius Capital. The company has also brought on its board of advisors former YouTube executives Shishir Mehrotra, who was former VP (Product) at Youtube/Video at Google, and Dean Gilbert, Former VP and Global Head of Content operations at Youtube, apart from VuClip founder and CEO Nickhil Jakatdar. Culture Machine is a YouTube certified MCN, and also manages content across other platforms such as DailyMotion, and syndicates content to VuClip on mobile.
Pitalwalla decline to disclose how much the company has raised in funding, but The Economic Times put the amount at $4 million. In the past, HomeVeda has raised funding from Blume Ventures, while Shekhar Kapur and AR Rehman backed Qyuki received additional backing from Samir Bangara, for MD (Digital) for Disney-UTV. Bangara is CEO of Qyuki, and effectively competing with his former colleague, Pitallwala.
The plan is to use the funding to expand internationally. “We have plans for what kind of a product (for the expansion), but our plans haven’t been firmed up yet. Different markets have different contours. We’ll probably look at South East Asia.” The funding will also be used to further build out its intelligence platform, which Pitalwalla says is a key differentiator for the company.
Building a Creator Network
Typically, YouTube Multi Channel Networks sign up multiple creators, and aggregate content. Culture Machine is bridging a gap between brands and creators: brands want to make branded content on YouTube, but are not sure of what works. There is a paucity of agencies in the market that understand online video, and what to create, and because anyone can be a YouTube content creator, they have little idea about who to work with. For content creators, the company, like others in this space, helps get them business from brands, and helps monetize their content more efficiently.
Culture Machine claims to be the largest creator network in India, with a network of 400 content creators across music, comedy and beauty. It has a set up a 6000 square feet production facility in Mumbai, and has another in Chennai. Its network includes channels such as BeingIndian, Gaurav Dagaonkar, Hanu Dixit, Shruti Anand, Sonal Sagarya, Elton Fernandz and Bollywood Gandu, as well as media brands likeFox Star Studios, Germany’s CMajor, Norway’s Earth Three Media, the American stand-up comedy network, Comedy Time, The Times of India and Bombay Times. The company earlier had a YouTube content deal with YouTube India music star Shraddha Sharma (details here).
The Creator Dashboard, with data to help create content
Culture Machine has a proprietary technology media platform to analyse trending content and advise creators and brands on what kind of content to create, when. Apart from this, it has a YouTube certified team for audience development, analytics, marketing and PR team to help creators, brands and media companies reach out to their audiences at scale.
“We’ve built a technology product, and will be doubling down on our engineering. The company as two technology products: an intelligence platform which allows it to understand what kind of content is resonating with which community, and give a ‘content recipe’ to create programming with a higher probability of a hit,” Pitalwalla told MediaNama. They’ve integrated with YouTube’s public and private API, and built their own crawlers. “Our credo is: know what content to create, and create content at scale. Our platform identifies formats, top creators creating that programming, trends for that week. ” Prasad, who was with Google for seven years, had been involved with building out the analytics platform at YouTube. “The success metrics include viewership, watch time, reach as well as engagement metrics. You can always buy views, but it doesn’t mean that people are watching it. There are other signals which indicate why YouTube recommends a video, and indicate the health of a video. If the video is successful, we define the format and what went right with it, and make recommendations. For brands, we can recommend the format, the type of programming, and the creator who would fit well with this.” The platform addresses a gap in the market, wherein content creators only have access to the performance of their content, and not of that of other channels.
Pitalwalla claims that the company has worked with around 40-50 brands in India, as well as a few in Dubai, including Emirates. “Our customers include Johnson and Johnson, Havels, Strepsils, Microsoft. We have a brand solutions team in place, and the way it works is that all the brands want to create digital video programming. They want to create ideas or back ideas that have a high probability of a hit. They want to create this with native YouTubers. When a brand comes and works with us, we advise them on what content to create, and also who to create it with because we have a large network.”
Complex creator relationships and conflict of interest
Culture Machine doesn’t just have a creator network: it also aggregates content, and more importantly, it has its own channels. Pitalwalla declined to comment on revenue shares with content creators, or whether each contract (with a creator) is different. That can inhibit scaling. Pitalwalla says that the they also have their own CRM for managing creator relationships: “On the back of certain commodity software, we have built our own creator management platform, which allows us to scale our creator management really quickly, from payouts to processes and brands. Not only does the creator create programming, we syndicate their content and brand relationships. We’re managing creators at scale.”
There is potential for conflict of interest when the company creates content that competes with those in its creator networks. Pitalwalla disagrees: “When it comes to our own content – for example, Being Indian is our own property which we have built up and it’s scaled brilliantly well for us. Even with the creator, sometimes you own the property, the lines blur depending on the model that you have.” The company looks at co-verticals and decides which verticals it owns content in, which it aggregates content in, and which it has a creator network in. “The idea is to give depth in a network instead of spraying and praying. In case of BeingIndian, a lot of our content has been created by the creator network. They are collaborations,” Pitalwalla says. “One comedy brands humor is very different from anothers. Different strokes for different folks. There’s no conflict of interest.”
“We don’t rely as much on aggregated content, which is the traditional MCN game of just aggregating content and playing on arbitrage. We don’t look at ourselves as a YouTube MCN. Our roadmap is OTT videos, which is going to be a growth driver, and we want to be the media company to drive that. Our revenue is spread out. YouTube is doing well, but we make money from syndication and brand solutions. YouTube is just the first port of call, and tomorrow how you tell a story on Instagram in 15 seconds or on Vine in 10 seconds. ”