Mailchimp Created a Production Studio. Who’s Next?
Mailchimp, the marketing automation platform, recently announced the creation of an in-house production studio and launch of Mailchimp Presents, a wide-ranging entertainment platform centered on themes of entrepreneurship. On the one hand, this seems to be a logical step for a company celebrated for its innovative approach to growth — it’s not altogether surprising that Mailchimp would leverage their brand, which boasts hundreds of thousands of loyal subscribers, to get into the original content business. On the other hand, this is appears to be a hint of a significant shift in the world of entertainment. Let’s take a step back for a minute… Mailchimp, an email marketing software, is now producing documentaries, scripted shows, and films, kind of like Netflix? For real?
The rise of online streaming, cord-cutting, and on-demand entertainment, has been well documented, and we usually think of the streaming world in two tiers. The first is represented by the subscription-based juggernauts (Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, and HBO) that produce, license, and distribute premium content. The second tier is mired in the vast world of YouTube, where billions of videos of all kinds are stored and watched for free. Over the past several years, these dynamics have become significantly more complex. The ability to create and distribute well-produced original content has now moved beyond the traditional entertainment powerbrokers and to a number of unexpected places.
Given the ease of hosting video content online, large distribution deals are no longer essential for developing new shows or series. For example, Yeti, the outdoor lifestyle brand, created “Stories of the Wild”, a short-form documentary series highlighting adventure stories from around the world. Other companies have shifted towards creating branded video content that doesn’t explicitly advertise their products or services. Celebrities, particularly star athletes, such as Lebron James and Kevin Durant have also built original content studios, using early success on YouTube as a stepping stone to larger distribution deals with networks such as HBO and ESPN. Rather than appearing in someone else’s production, influential people are increasingly leveraging their social reach not only be executive producers, but to create full-on content studios with relatively moderate investments in production and promotion.
The rise of streaming and online video is not only creating a proliferation of new media, but also new “micro” studios and networks that may materialize virtually overnight. Influential individuals can partner directly with talented directors and small production companies to create shows on the fly, without the backing of large studios or distribution deals. Enterprising public figures now have the ability to enter into the entertainment space with unprecedented creative and business control. The same is true for companies and brands, that may use original content to both build deeper connections with their audiences and serve as a long-term diversification strategy. By creating original content that isn’t explicit advertising, non-traditional companies have the ability to branch out as players in the rapidly-evolving entertainment industry.
Of course, Mailchimp’s entry into the original content business is a risk, and is nothing close to something like Netflix. But it likely doesn’t need to be. By offering a smaller number of shows geared to a niche audience, Maiilchimp is banking on a shift away from traditional advertising and finding new ways to engage with and expand their audience. In the long term, they may end up caring less about people using their email-marketing services and more about the expansive ways that people view their brand. They’ve also shown that a seven figure investment can go a lot further than one film or show. This represents a unique in-between space, one that exists outside the territory of the big streaming players and provides something different than the multitude of independent YouTube creators. This middle space is likely to keep getting bigger.