Disney: Maker Studios is the Marvel of the future

Disney bought YouTube network Maker Studios for what could amount to almost $1 billion. Why? It's the Marvel or Lucasfilm of tomorrow, the company's financial chief says.

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Joan E. Solsman
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Disney believes YouTube network Maker Studios could be a powerhouse as much as Marvel, source of blockbuster franchises like "The Avengers." Getty Images

NEW YORK -- If you're curious who will be the pop culture equivalent to Iron Man in the future, Disney believes it could be somebody like YouTube star PewDiePie.

When Disney bought Maker Studios -- a YouTube network with incredible reach among young audiences but a dubious profit model -- for up to $950 million including performance targets in March, some scratched their heads about why the traditional media giant would pay such a high price for an unproven company.

"We believe Maker will be a big studio like Marvel or Lucasfilm," Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo said Wednesday at a Goldman Sachs investor conference. Marvel is the comic-based entertainment company that Disney bought for more than $4 billion in 2009 and has turned into a stable for blockbuster movie franchises like "The Avengers." Lucasfilm is the company founded by "Star Wars" creator George Lucas, imbuing Disney with the "Star Wars" brand to be perpetuated for more profit.

Rasulo said Disney looks for acquisitions that either contain big caches of intellectual property, like Marvel, or are capable of getting the company's content in new ways. "Maker is a little bit of both," he said.

Maker enhances its parent's distribution system by bringing it a massive, young audience of short-form video on YouTube, which will be the driving force of how Disney makes money off it library of content that it reformats and reuses in shorter bites, he said, adding "We haven't even scratched the surface.'

Though advertising profit on YouTube is split with the platform's owner, Google, Rasulo didn't view that as a hindrance to Maker's money-making potential. "The pie is gigantic," he said.

Maker Studios reports to Rasulo.