From The Big Chair: Jonathan Skogmo

The CEO of Jukin Media talks about what will keep his company growing and why sometimes you have to say no to enticing opportunities.
October 28, 2015

Welcome to our ongoing series, From the Big Chair, where top digital decision makers from around the world share their thoughts on the most pressing industry issues of the day.

Today we talk with Jonathan Skogmo, CEO of L.A.-based Jukin Media. The entertainment company has made a business out of acquiring and aggregating hot videos, and recently went on a spree of partnerships and purchases (including the feel-good People are Awesome and the totally adorable pet-centric The Pet Collective).

Jukin has built a large library of wacky video content by tracking down clips from what Skogmo calls “accidental content creators” and securing the rights while they’re still in their “pre-viral” stage. It’s taken that approach across multiple channels, including linear television, YouTube, Vine, and, most recently, Verizon’s Go90. And it seems to be working: Jukin’s best-known brand, Fail Army, has more than 8.5 million subscribers and 2.5 billion views on YouTube, and another four million fans on Facebook.

While the company has received more than $4 million in funding to date (including $2 million from Samsung this summer), it’s been in no hurry to spend it, choosing a cautious and focused approach to where and how they expand.

Skogmo tells us why that hyper focus on what’s made Jukin successful is what will keep it growing in the future, and why sometimes you have to say no to shiny and enticing opportunities.

Where do you see the biggest opportunity right now in digital streaming?

Right now there are a ton of opportunities and a ton of choices. I think that speaks to fragmentation in our business, yet the content consumed across all these platforms is increasing, not decreasing.

For us, our content is platform agnostic. So we’re publishing on multiple platforms – everything from Vine, which is six-seconds long, to YouTube, between one and 10 minutes long – and with each one of those platforms there are different opportunities to engage our audience. I think [while there is a risk] of cannibalization, we’re actually seeing our audience follow us wherever we go.

Right now is a great time to be a content provider or a content producer because there are all these different platforms coming up. We don’t know what platforms will live at the end of the day. I think there will definitely be some sort of consolidation in the industry. But at the end of the day people want good content and I know our content is going to live and perform great on any of these platforms.

How are you, as a company, making sure you remain platform agnostic to be able to tap into emerging platforms?

We’ll always be platform agnostic because our content performs so well. That’s because we’re programming different to all of these platforms. [On some] we’re curating content, [on others] we’re creating content with new partners. So the content [itself] is always evolving.

Our content is really cost-effective. We’re a huge aggregator – we buy and repackage it.

And is being cost-effective and an aggregator a way for you to look ahead and ensure you’re not tied to one specific platform?

I think that’s one way. For other media companies, they have to continually build more content, and more content is more expensive. Our [system] works because we can repackage and repurpose it for different platforms [by making sure the content is properly tailored to the appropriate platform].

You’ve been on an acquisition and partnering spree lately: how does that fit into your overarching strategy towards maintaining that content-agnostic approach?

Absolutely. The other thing is we focus on short-form content, but we’re finding different ways to verticalize these different libraries to create their own content brands, [which] have their own followings, own audiences. [For example] things like Fail Army, which has 8.5 million subscribers and nearly 2.5 billion views. We’ve done some very successful programming across multiple platforms. And [with these newly acquired companies] we can continue that strategy and [give] consumers a lot more choices.

What issue is keeping you awake at night?

I think there are so many opportunities out there – there are so many shiny objects and different business paths we can go down.The hardest thing for us is not chasing those shiny objects. [We need] to be laser focused. Because there are so many opportunities, we need to be careful that we don’t go down a path we don’t want to go on.

There are plenty of businesses that have not stuck to their core and they’ve pivoted in the wrong direction, and they lose focus. It’s hard to do one business really right, but it’s really hard for any company to keep their core values.

Have you guys turned down opportunities because they didn’t fit into that laser focus?

Absolutely. We’ve had brands who’ve approached us and [asked] “Can you make our video go viral?” And we’ve said no. We [could] make it go viral, but we only do that for our own content. We’ve had creators come to us [and ask] to have their channel inserted into our network and [ask us] to become an MCN, and we’ve said “No, we don’t do that.” We manage our owned videos, our owned channels.

Are you ever worried you’re missing out on an opportunity?

I think if we stick to our core – that we aggregate IP, acquire IP and create new IP from it – there are a lot of opportunities out there [for us]. I don’t think we’re missing out on opportunities. I think opportunities will present themselves to us [within that core mandate].

What’s the view like from the big chair?

I think it all comes down to a laser focus. I started this company from my apartment four and a half years ago. I think we’ve always had the same values and that means we’ve been a profitable company.

Missed a Q&A? Check out more From the Big Chair sessions here. 


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