Viacom In Talks to Acquire Awesomeness to Bolster Digital Assets

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Robert Bakish, president and chief executive officer of Viacom International Media Networks, poses for a photograph following a Bloomberg Television interview in London, U.K., on Dec. 12, 2013. 

Viacom is in talks to acquire youth-focused media business Awesomeness, multiple sources tell The Hollywood Reporter

The company is said to be planning to buy 100 percent of the company from its consortium of owners, NBCUniversal, Verizon and Hearst. Terms of the deal, which has not been finalized, are unclear but Bloomberg reports that it would value Awesomeness below its last public valuation of $650 million. 

Representatives for Awesomeness and Viacom did not respond to a request for comment.

A sale would bring to an end a complex ownership structure for Awesomeness, which is majority owned by Comcast's NBCU but also counts Verizon and Hearst as large shareholders. It comes during a period of belt tightening for digital media businesses several years after the sector saw a flurry of M&A activity that led to Disney's acquisition of Maker Studios and Otter Media's majority ownership of Fullscreen. 

For Viacom, it would add to a growing roster of digital brands. The company, under the leadership of Bob Bakish, tapped Awesomeness veteran Kelly Day late last year to run its newly established Viacom Digital Studios group. Since then, the company has acquired marketing company WhoSay and youth conference business VidCon.

Brian Robbins, the producer of such shows as One Tree Hill and Smallville, started Awesomeness out of YouTube's original channel initiative, building a funded channel for tween-centric shows. The company was one of the first digital media companies to sell, ultimately getting acquired by DreamWorks Animation in 2013 in a deal that valued the company at as much as $117 million. Over the next several years, with the support of then DWA CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, the company grew into a full-fledged digital media business, acquiring management firm Big Frame and launching film studio Awesomeness Films. The company later sold a nearly 25 percent piece of its business to Hearst and then, in a deal that boosted its valuation to $650 million, sold a matching stake to Verizon. 

In 2016, NBCU acquired parent company DWA for $3.8 billion. Since then, questions have swirled about the future of Awesomeness, especially given the competitive interests of owners Comcast and Verizon.

Six months after the sale, Robbins departed Awesomeness and eventually took a job running Paramount Players. NFL and XBox Entertainment Studios veteran Jordan Levin later replaced him as CEO. Since then, a number of high-profile executives have left the company, including Day, chief talent officer Paula Kaplan, Awesomeness Films head Matt Kaplan and more recently president Brett Bouttier.

In recent years, Awesomeness had focused on providing teen- and tween-focused content for digital platforms including Netflix and Hulu. It also had a large output deal with Verizon's go90 ad-supported service, which the telecom giant is in the process of shutting down.

This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.