Launching a TV network in the middle of a pandemic was always going to be an ambitious undertaking. Then again, video game entertainment network Venn thought it had just the right mix for the moment: esports, gaming and video game culture, streaming 24/7 on Twitch, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, while everyone was staying home and thirsty for distractions. What could possibly go wrong?
Quite a few things, as it turns out. Almost a year after its initial launch, Venn is in the middle of a reboot of sorts, tweaking its distribution strategy and shifting its focus to shorter-form content. I recently caught up with Venn co-CEO Ariel Horn to talk about those first eight months. “It’s been an incredible learning experience,” he told me.
- Not all services are alike. Venn initially distributed its live programming everywhere, which was partially influenced by online news network Cheddar. Turns out that may not have been the best idea. “We made a mistake thinking that we could have one 24-hour channel that could cater to every platform,” Horn said.
- When on YouTube, keep it short. While live programming and hour-long shows worked well on Twitch, it didn’t really make a dent on YouTube, where there’s a lot more interest in shorter clips. “It made it harder to be nimble and responsive on short-form platforms,” Horn admitted. Venn is now looking to change that with more YouTube-friendly content; it also launched specific YouTube channels for key verticals. “We need to focus a lot more on short form,” he said.
- No one likes reruns. Another problem with Venn’s focus on high-profile programming was that it was only able to air new shows three days a week, leading to a lot of reruns. With its new focus on shorter programming, Venn can actually air new shows five days a week while spending less, Horn said.
- Breaking through the noise is hard. Venn started out with the ambition to become a kind of MTV for the video game generation, but didn’t exactly have MTV’s advertising budget. “The awareness that we had at launch was not as high as we had hoped,” Horn said. Now, the network wants to spend six figures on promoting its new shows. “Our content needs to be seen by fans,” he said.
- A studio is important, but expensive. Venn has been producing shows out of its Los Angeles studio, with minimal staffing, talent bubbles, one-way foot traffic signage and all the other things you need to make TV in COVID times. “It definitely is more costly,” Horn acknowledged. The company put plans to open up a second studio space in New York on hold for the time being, blaming the pandemic.
But not all has gone wrong for Venn. The network streamed over 100 million minutes of content, at times had 30,000 concurrent viewers on Twitch, and attracted a growing audience on connected TV platforms like the Roku Channel, Samsung TV Plus, LG, Vizio and Plex.
Venn also raised $26 million in late 2020, and Horn told me the company is looking to add more money to its coffers this year. And this week, Venn announced a slate of new shows that it hopes will grow its core gaming audience, and ultimately meet the moment. “The world is very much experiencing cabin fever,” Horn said. Launching a new TV network into this world may be incredibly challenging, but it could also be a huge opportunity.