VENN, a lifestyle channel for and about gamers, will launch in July with 30 hours of original programming, its founders said. That’s several months earlier than planned to help connect fans at a time when video game popularity and TV viewing are soaring.
Ariel Horn and Ben Kusin said VENN will ramp up both remotely and – carefully – out of its new Playa Vista studio and soundstage. Glass-fronted New York digs at 3 World Trade Center stand ready but won’t open until the safety situation improves in the nation’s COVID-19 epicenter. Content is evolving but will include a daily studio show with interviews of gaming/esports celebrities and a late night talk show.
The pair are gaming royalty. Horn is an esports pioneer and producer who, after a decade at NBC Sports, took over production of BlizzCon for Blizzard Entertainment and then, with Riot Games, grew fledgling League of Legends into a global powerhouse, taking esports from niche halls to packed stadiums and global viewers. Kusin is an entrepreneur who founded a handful of companies and led new media and strategic alliances for Vivendi Universal Games. His father Gary Kusin, founded the company later called Gamestop in 1984.
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VENN stands for Videogame Entertainment and News Network. The duo, who are also co-CEOs, announced it in September of 2019 with $17 million in seed round funding from investors including Marc Merrill, co-founder of Riot Games, Mike Morhaime, co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment, Kevin Lin, co-founder of Twitch, YuChiang Cheng, co-founder of World Golf Tour and President of Topgolf Media and others. Horn and Kusin said they’ve raised additional funds since and also brought in the Kroenke Sports.
They’ve hired a CTO, Scott Gillies, formerly CTO for Vice and Red Bull Media. Aaron Godfred, formerly of Fullscreen and Omaze, will head programming. VENN brought on former head of the VMAs, Jeff Jacobs. Kusin sees VENN scaling up to about 65 staff.
July will be a beta test and talent is being courted and signed at a rapid rate. The pair, who are also co-CEOs, said VENN has dozens of shows in development: reality, news, competition, esports, live studio shows, music, a late night talk show for Gen Z. Given limitations imposed by the coronavirus, VENN will focus first on formats that lean in to talent and already have established install bases on digital platforms and working to add production value.
The goal: to elevate the format of home streamers like Ninja – professional Battle Royale player – on a linear channel they hope will be widely distributed. They have no problem cross-promoting with Twitch, Mixer and YouTube, but think the linear option will offer a better and larger opportunity for brands to reach gamers. They’re talking deals with virtual and traditional distributors. “We’ve been negotiating and are at the finish line on quite a few,” Kusin said. It helps that they’re not charging carriage fees.
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