How YouTube programmer WatchMojo is expanding into long-form productions

YouTube network WatchMojo is expanding into distributing TV and feature-length video programming.

At the end of June, WatchMojo will release a 90-minute documentary called “Fox in the Henhouse,” which will focus on the rise of socialism and the limits of capitalism heading into the 2020 U.S. elections. This will be followed by another documentary feature tackling YouTube culture and its impact on TV, and a third feature centering on Comic-Con and how geek culture overtook pop culture.

By 2020, WatchMojo aims to release a TV- or feature-length piece of original content once a month, said Ashkan Karbasfrooshan, CEO of the company.

“For years, we’ve wanted to expand into new genres and formats,” Karbasfrooshan said. “But when you have a successful format on big platforms like YouTube, it’s always hard to do something different.”

With 34 million subscribers across its YouTube network, which includes 20 million subscribers on its main channel, WatchMojo is best known for its listicle videos and other evergreen video formats that are tailor-made for YouTube. Videos can have a wide range of subject matter — from “10 Animals That Are Almost Extinct” to “Top 10 Paranormal Events in Movie Shoots” — but are all typically 10 minutes long and ideally suited for YouTube’s search platform and algorithm, which promotes videos with greater watch time. The average watch time for WatchMojo videos in 2019 have ranged from just under 5 minutes on mobile phones and tablets to more than 7 minutes on internet-connected TVs, according to YouTube data reviewed by Digiday.

But a growing number of people are watching WatchMojo on TV screens: In 2019, internet-connected TV sets have accounted for 6.7% of WatchMojo’s views and 9.8% of total watch time; in 2016, TV sets accounted for 3.5% of overall views and 4.9% of watch time. These numbers are in line with overall viewing trends on YouTube, which now says users watch more than 250 million minutes of videos every day from TV screens.

Karbasfrooshan said growth in TV time on YouTube is giving WatchMojo the chance to expand into new, longer-form content areas — but it’s not the driving reason. “I focused on building a business first and then worrying about [TV- and feature-length programming], which is harder to crack,” he said.

WatchMojo is still experimenting with how it will distribute its longer programming. One possibility is releasing the first 10 minutes of “Fox in the Henhouse” on YouTube, and making the full film available for purchase or rental on Amazon, iTunes and other storefronts; with plans to eventually put the full documentary back on YouTube months down the road. “It’s worth exploring whether there is a download or subscription market,” said Karbasfrooshan.

Beyond its own productions, WatchMojo is also increasing looking to distribute movies and TV shows made by other companies — often in an effort to market new seasons, episodes or sequels of those shows. For instance, in May, Warner Bros. distributed an episode of “Doom Patrol” on WatchMojo’s YouTube channel as a way to promote the full season of the show on its DC Universe streaming service. Karbasfrooshan said he’s in discussion with other studios and TV networks on a similar type of arrangement, though he declined to name specific companies due to deals not being finalized yet.

“Viacom is releasing a ‘Top Gun’ sequel next year; to promote it, why not release the first one briefly on WatchMojo to boost awareness? We can offer that kind of spotlight on our core YouTube channel,” Karbasfrooshan said.

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