Machinima's new CEO brought friends. Like Superman (Q&A)

The gaming-video source scored an original animated series with comic idols and serious insider cred. New CEO Chad Gutstein talks about his first big programming deal and site's new reality.

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
6 min read

Machinima will distribute an original animated series about Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman next year, product of Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett. Getty
Machinima's newest original show deals in an alternate universe, but the company itself may be just fine with the true reality taking shaping around it.

After a string of bad news in the last year, with multiple rounds of layoffs and several executive departures, Machinima has a new CEO and $18 million in funding drummed up earlier this year in a financing round led by Warner Bros. Last week, it unveiled a key deal for an original short-form animated series with its new investor, which owns DC Comics.

"Justice League: Gods and Monsters Chronicles" will focus an alternate version of the DC universe where Justice League members Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are darker incarnations of the famed superheroes. The three-part series will be the product of Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett, the producers of "Batman: The Animated Series" and the creative forces behind a coming Justice League animated film linked to the Machinima shows.

It comes as Machinima, alongside other companies that have found an immense audience through Google's YouTube, grapples for money-making models that match gigantic reach. Machinima was one of the first and biggest names in the powerful emerging niche of gamer videos, but difficulty making a profit through advertising -- especially advertising on YouTube, where revenue is split with Google -- has clouded the future of shops like Machinima.

Gutstein talked to CNET about the deal for the animated series, Justice League's stature at Machinima (it's a big deal) and the company's place in the burgeoning world of gaming video after the rough patches. The following is an edited Q&A.

Q: How did the deal to for this series happen?
Gutstein: Warner Bros. made a strategic investment in Machinima in early March. Following that I was brought on to run the company. Since day one, since before I started, part of me coming here was the promise of really having a deep dive with Warner Bros. and working together in new and interesting ways.

Obviously one of the big things we were working on and trying to think through is: How can we work with some of the brands that they have? We are the most notorious purveyors and cultivators of fandom in gamer culture, they have a set of [intellectual property] that is almost unrivaled in terms of reaching the audiences that we have. Whether it's all of the DC properties, Harry Potter, Lego, Mad Max, Matrix, Lord of the Rings, you could go on and on. It's a hit list for our niche, right? So there's a lot of places to play.

Machinima Chief Executive Chad Gutstein Machinima
As part of going through these discussions, we met with Sam Register [Warner Bros. president of animation and digital series] and his team at Warner Bros. animation and this new group that he's building on the short-form side. And we're just kind of gong through ideas that they had of ways to engage, and there was this project that they were already in production in on the direct-to-home-entertainment side around this new vision for, or an alternative vision, for the Justice League that Bruce Timm was very involved in.

It immediately struck us as something that would be absolutely center of the bull's-eye perfect for our audience. It's edgy, it's new, it's never before seen. Our people are very much about being the first, the first to see something new, the first to try something new. We and DC and Warner Animation then all very quickly got into a discussion around how this could happen, and what ended up was the development of this limited series, this really amazing program that we'er pulling together not only on the content side but also the packaging for advertisers.

Q: Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett has legitimate cred in this universe.
Gutstein: You're exactly right about the creators here, they could not be more authentic. And visionary, really, when it comes to looking at these characters and providing alternative perspectives. We're not releasing any information about the characters right now publicly, but what I can tell you is -- I am a huge Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman fan; Superman first, Batman second -- there have been very late night email debates going back and forth between the members of our team about these characters and some of the actions they are taking. I mean, we are so excited just to be a part of this, and to get a look at what these guys are creating. It's binding.

Q: What have these characters -- Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman -- meant to you personally?
Gutstein: I remember sitting in a Loews theater on 86th Street, seeing "Superman" the movie, I remember it vividly. Sitting there watching the scene where he's having breakfast with his earth parents, he's eating Cheerios. The mythology of Superman, just seeing these characters and what they stood for growing up, they're an escape. they're exciting. I remember the passion obviously of reading the comic books but then the first time I saw Tim Burton's "Batman" -- oh my God, the search light and the Danny Elfman music, and flash forward to being reimagined in the Christopher Nolan era. And you look at what Bruce has done with Batman. You've got people talking about who owns these characters -- as a fan, putting my fan hat on, we own these characters, right? And the wonderful thing about them is there's so many different iterations that we can know and love and get into. Here at Machinima, having the ability to work with this amazing creative talent, to bring a new vision to these characters, we think our fans are going to love it.

Q: This series is complementary to the movie -- what about working with Warner on Machina being the the place for the main event?
Gutstein: Do I see a world where we're the place for the main event? The answer is yes. If you look at "Mortal Kombat:Legacy" season 1 and 2, those are both available on DVD, those were premieres on us. You could see in the future simultaneous release, you could see releases that are serialized on our platform. There's lots of different iterations of windowing models that because of the scale, the size, the reach and focus of our audience that we're going to be able to experiment with both original stuff that's purely developed by us, as well as coproductions that we execute with IP rights holders. So we're really excited about all of that and how that plays out.

Q: Recent takeovers with Maker and Twitch have changed outsiders' awareness of the general universe that Machinima is a part of -- where does Machinima sit in this universe now?
Gutstein: Machinima is the leader in figuring out this new social video world, certainly from the perspective of fanboy and gamer culture. We were the first programming service on YouTube to grow to massive scale, we remain one of the five largest programmers on the YouTube platform from a views perspective. From an engagement perspective and watch-time perspective, we remain the leader of the platform.

We've done 25 scripted series over the last four years, the four largest of those have total watch-time that exceeds a thousand years. I'll say that again: exceeds a thousand years.

I think there were a lot of questions earlier in the year and throughout last year about what Machinima's capabilities would be to continue to break the mold and create scripted and unscripted content that brings new voices and new visions to social video platforms. In the last six months, we've released "Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist" and now we're announcing this: This is the the first major programming announcement of something new since I joined the company. This is a first of its kind, right? The first time you've seen a tie-in with IP that is this big, the talent that is as well known as Bruce and Allen are are within their world, with tie to a movie release -- we're really breaking the mold here and experimenting in a way that is really exciting for us as a business.

But first and foremost, how does it impact us? It impacts us because our fans are going to love it, we love this. Our fans are going to go nuts for it.