VENN Founders Are Playing to Win With Gaming Lifestyle Streaming Channel (Listen)

Call it Food Network or HGTV for the Twitch generation.

Ariel Horn and Ben Kusin are the co-founders and co-CEOs of VENN, the fledgling ad-supported streaming service that hopes to be a live entertainment destination for video game enthusiasts, casual and otherwise.

Horn and Kusin detail the vision and planning for VENN on the latest episode of Variety’s weekly podcast “Strictly Business.” The pair cites the familiar statistics about the explosive growth of gaming as an entertainment pursuit that has blossomed into a $150 billion industry, with plenty of expansion on the horizon.

Although a linear live feed of programming with commercials embedded would seem out of step with the way younger consumers are consuming content, Horn and Kusin see an opening for a lifestyle-oriented programs that are available wherever the target audience is. For VENN (which stands for Video Game Entertainment and News Network), the flexibility of being ad-supported means that programming can air wherever the co-CEOs can work out a rev-share or ad inventory split deal. That means everything from Twitch, YouTube and Facebook to smart TV manufacturers.

“What has become unbelievably clear is that this is a white space that advertisers are looking to put their money into,” Kusin says.

Horn and Kusin were brought together by video game industry bigwigs — including Marc Merrill, co-founder of Riot Games; Mike Morhaime, co-founder of Blizzard Entertainment; and Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin — when it became clear that both were in the marketplace trying to drum up support for the same idea. Kusin is a digital entrepreneur and former executive at Vivendi Universal Games. Horn worked in production at NBC Sports and other TV outlets before shifting to steering esports production at Riot Games.

As Kusin puts it, asking about the scope of the market for gaming-focused programming aimed at millennials and Gen Z is akin to asking, “Are you a dinner eater?”

VENN, which bowed on Aug. 5, has 50,000 square feet of studio space in the Playa Vista area of Los Angeles for producing news, pop culture and lifestyle shows hosted by established social media personalities such as AustinOnTwitter. The goal is to build up to 50 original hours of programming per week with plans for a studio in lower Manhattan to open next year.

VENN’s shows don’t have to conform to traditional linear notions of sitcoms and police procedurals. The two-way information pipeline provided by social media will be invaluable for honing the tone and focus of VENN programs, Horn says.

“We don’t have to over-format and over-produce things,” says Horn. “This audience built their taste buds on short-form streaming content. And they’re used to watching long-form content where they’re engaging as part of the audience.”

“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

(Pictured: Ben Kusin and Ariel Horn of VENN)

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