Jukin Media: Building an empire on other people’s viral videos


As other digital video companies move toward creator partnerships and snazzy original content, Jukin Media is determined to build a scalable media business based on wacky animal videos and other viral fare.

Founded in 2010 by Jonathan Skogmo, a former clip show producer, Jukin Media scours the Web for the best user-generated video content, buying the exclusive lifetime rights to roughly 150 videos per week. It also reviews direct submissions. Most of the content comes from “accidental creators,” regular folks posting random stuff online, which Jukin monetizes by distributing through its owned and operated properties (primarily on YouTube) or licensing to other media properties and brands. Cute cats, sports stunts and epic fails can be valuable video assets — and Jukin Media exists to capitalize on their value.

“One of the really nice things about this business is the margins,” said Lee Essner, Jukin’s president and chief operating officer. “We have such high lifetime value on a piece of content we acquire that the margins are pretty extraordinary.”

Jukin’s offers vary hugely: It has paid as little as $50 and as much as “a few thousand” for a single piece of content, according to Essner. But it typically snaps up videos for a few hundred bucks each, through either an ongoing revenue share or, preferably for Jukin, an outright buy. Each piece of content returns more than $1,000 on average, said Essner.

“Individually, a 20-second clip is not worth a lot, but in our hands, we make the content much more valuable,” he said.

That’s because Jukin has several ways to monetize the clips it buys, whether they’re of goofy baby antics or terrifying skydiver seizures (yes, Jukin bought that one). It operates several popular YouTube channels, including FailArmy (6.9 million subscribers) and JukinVideo (786,000 subscribers), which run pre-roll ads against their content. Videos on Jukin-owned YouTube channels attracted close to 13.9 million U.S. desktop viewers in February, according to analytics firm comScore. But even if Jukin’s videos show up on other YouTube channels — people tend to rip and repost viral videos — the company can still monetize those copies with YouTube’s Content ID technology. The company claims its content gets more than a billion views a month on the platform.

“The moment we acquire that video, we put a claim on it, so we can throw some ads on that video,” said Jukin Media CEO Jonathan Skogmo. “Rights management is very important to our business.”

The videos Jukin buys regularly travel beyond YouTube and Jukin’s other social properties, too. Jukin licenses them to clip shows, morning shows, news shows and the occasional brand or agency. “Tosh.0,” “Today” and “Good Morning America” have all bought Jukin content, as have Suburu, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. Jukin has a “viral video feed” for publishers, which grants them access to its 15,000-video library. And Jukin now has its own television show on FOX: “World’s Funniest Fails,” a clip show based on the FailArmy YouTube channel to be hosted by actor Terry Crews. It’s shopping around similar concepts in international markets.

“This content is so shareable, it’s global, it needs no language or translation,” said Essner. “A cute kid is a cute kid, a cute pet is a cute pet, so that’s why we have a ton of international expansion going on right now.”

Jukin touts its technology platform as first class, helping it discover, buy and manage all of its content, but it’s really just a souped-up customer-relationship management software. The vast majority of the discovery process still falls on Jukin’s 80-person workforce, which reviews submissions, looks for nascent viral hits and smacks copyright violators off YouTube with DMCA strikes. That’s a time-consuming process, so Jukin tries to maximize efficiency with tech at every possible turn.

Ultimately, Jukin is trying to build a sustainable business not too reliant on any one revenue stream. It doesn’t want to be a one-hit wonder, blowing up and fizzling out, as many of its videos do.

Jukin “has been ahead of the curve in terms of not relying too much on YouTube revenue or licensing revenue,” said Jason Cilo, president of Meetinghouse Productions, a production company that regularly buys from Jukin Media. “[Skogmo] is playing a little bit in all of these different fields.”

Main image courtesy of Sonsedska Yuliia / Shutterstock


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