The great YouTube MCN land grab may be over

DetailsMichelle Clancy | 13 July 2015

Over the past three years, the biggest of YouTube's multi-channel networks (MCNs) have been snapped up for sums ranging from $200 million to nearly $1 billion, mainly by the larger media groups. Now, researchers say that the land grab is all but over, leaving some major players with the option of acquiring and consolidating smaller MCNs or building their own.

According to Ampere Analysis, more than 75% of the MCNs acquired in the last three years were bought by traditional media groups, including RTL, Warner Music, Dreamworks, Disney and Discovery. The level of investment they have made has boosted valuations for the networks — meaning that the average MCN is worth 10 cents per monthly view. On this basis, an MCN with one billion monthly views would be worth $100 million — and there are 22 MCNs now worth at least this much.

Combined, those 22 MCNs are worth $6.5 billion. And collectively, the top 100 MCNs (which accounted for 42% of all YouTube's video views in Q1 2015) receive 100 billion views per month, making them worth nearly $10 billion.

"MCN valuations typically represent multiples of between 25 and 35 times their annual revenues [far greater than that of a broadcast network], yet return on investment is good for buyers," Ampere noted. "Our analysis suggests that a typical MCN with one billion views per month would be valued at $97 million, and make approximately $21 million in gross revenue per year. YouTube's entire audience could be valued on this basis at over $20 billion."

MCNs build, aggregate and monetise audiences across a variety of OTT video outlets, with the primary one being YouTube. Content is typically available in short clips of up to 20 minutes, with topics ranging from music to beauty and fashion, comedy, cartoons, documentaries and mockumentaries, and niche interest or experimental content. Some MCNs create their own material, such as RTL's StyleHaul and Discovery's Revision3, while others sell advertising against videos from third-party content creators.

The value of an MCN lies in its audience, similarly to traditional TV channels. The monthly audience and ad impressions any single YouTube channel achieves is typically equivalent to a minor broadcast channel, but when aggregated with other YouTube channels by an MCN to reach billions of viewers, there's the potential to capture a share of YouTube's $4.5 billion-and-growing annual advertising revenue, not to mention access to global viewers in new markets.

"The business model of MCNs is a good fit for many traditional media companies, which understand advertising business models," said Richard Broughton, research director at Ampere. "They are also an extremely effective way for traditional media players to reach a younger audience which is leaving traditional media in droves, as well as to experiment with new programme formats and content types."

It's paying off: Dreamworks and Disney have seen the investments they made in MCNs increase in value by more than 240% in just 18 months.

"Growth rates for MCNs are huge, and early buyers into the sector have seen their acquisitions triple in value within a few short years. Furthermore, buying an MCN delivers instant global reach, opening up new territories and helping to future-proof businesses in an increasingly unpredictable media sector.

"But very few top MCNs remain that don't now have an affiliation to a major media group. And with no apparent decline in valuations over time, those rare MCNs that are still independent are becoming increasingly expensive. Many media companies are playing a waiting game: the million dollar question now is when to stop waiting and start acting," Broughton said.

Ampere also noted that after YouTube and channel partner shares of an MCN's revenue are shared out, the amount an MCN actually gets to keep can be slim — as little as just a tenth of the overall revenue generated by its advertising sales— meaning that scale is important for profit.