At Casual Connect in San Francisco, 3BlackDot co-founders and former Machinima division heads Angelo Pullen and Luke Stepleton, along with former Duck Dynasty co-executive producer Hank Stepleton, unveiled their new influencer-driven entertainment company. The co-founders have partnered with top-ranked YouTube gaming influencers Adam Montoya (SeaNanners – 4.5 million subscribers) and Tom Cassell (TheSyndicateProject – 7.6 million subscribers) to open up new opportunities for brands to connect with gamers and the 13-34 year-old gaming demographic.
3BlackDot focuses on four main influencer-driven specialties:
In partnership with Section Studios, the first 3BlackDot studio initiative includes development of entertainment franchise Zombie Killer Squad in Nov. 2013. The mobile game quickly garnered one million installs in the first nine days, making it one of the fastest growing games to reach this number in history. It reached to the top spot of #1 App in the Apple iTunes store in the U.K., Canada, Australia and #2 App in the U.S. With more than 2.6 million installs, Zombie Killer Squad will release a game update that incorporates two additional YouTube gaming personalities — ihascupquake (1.6 million subscribers) and TmarTn (1.7 million subscribers).
Executive producer Hank Stepleton heads up the PickAxe production arm, whose first project is a live-action short film based on Zombie Killer Squad. The trailer to the film will debut at the 3BlackDot Influencer Lounge and launch party at San Diego Comic-Con.
3BlackDot also creates and builds campaigns for entertainment properties and brands such as Machete Kills for 20th Century Fox, Volkswagen #NowYouKnow, Office Depot and Disney Infinity. Angelo Pullen and Luke Stepleton explain what they learned from Machinima and how they plan on utilizing YouTube Influencers to grow new cross-platform IP in this exclusive interview.
What does the company name mean?
Angelo Pullen: It is a play off of ellipses, to communicate that there is always more to come.
Luke Stepleton: Ellipsis . . . or ‘And then’ or ‘more to come.’
What did you learn from your time at Machinima that you’re applying to this new company?
Angelo Pullen: Machinima was a great opportunity for us to work with a myriad of large brands and we gained an expertise in organically integrating a brand’s messaging into the YouTube ecosystem, while driving massive viewership and engagement. We were also very successful at building audiences around premium content online for shows such as Halo: Forward Unto Dawn and Battlestar Galactica, which is something else we look forward to putting to use with our production arm “PickAxe.”
Luke Stepleton: Machinima was a great place for me, truly enjoyed learning and working with a good group of people. The most valuable opportunity Machinima afforded me was the experience and ability to work with both brands and influencers.
How has YouTube evolved since its inception?
Angelo Pullen: YouTube started off similar to many other platforms, giving its creators tools to share and communicate. However, the creation of the partnership program and the concept of a platform sharing its ad revenue with the creators that are helping build its audience was one of the single most important moves for a platform to date.
Luke Stepleton: Loads, more than any one person can possibly provide a single answer for. The core of what makes it a wonderful platform hasn’t changed. The single most important change that YouTube implemented was the Partnership program. For me, this may go down as one of the most socially important and impactful decisions made by any corporation in the last 50 years.
What’s the secret to turning YouTube followers into customers?
Angelo Pullen: Authenticity. Provide something that the Influencer and their community actually care about.
Luke Stepleton: Not forgetting the ‘You’ of YouTube, and working closely with influencers to speak authentically to their audience.
What did you learn from your first mobile game, Zombie Killer Squad, when it comes to connecting with Youtube influencers?
Angelo Pullen: Give the YouTube Influencer the freedom to drive the creative direction of the game, specifically for their respective communities, and you will succeed.
Luke Stepleton: Every creative process and production offers its own unique set of learning opportunities. Working creatively with YouTubers to produce a game is no different than producing a movie or film. It takes the creative input of everyone involved to make it great.
What role will game development play in your company moving forward?
Angelo Pullen: A significant role. We are looking to become a legitimate player in the world of game publishing. Our focus will be on becoming the predominant publisher of Influencer driven games, developing engaging IP that is creatively driven and marketed by Influencers.
Luke Stepleton: Game development is a cornerstone for 3Blackdot, allowing us to work with a truly engaged community.
What opportunities do you see on Youtube when it comes to production?
Angelo Pullen: We are really excited about our production arm, PickAxe, which will be focusing on developing Influencer Driven content for Over-The-Top (OTT) outlets, but incubating the content on YouTube first. We believe that working with Influencers to develop premium content for their respective communities and then letting the community decide if they would like to see more, creates a unique opportunity to mitigate the risk that many other traditional producers are met with, while also increasing the LTV of a viewer for the OTT. It all starts on YouTube.
Luke Stepleton: There are significant opportunities for production on YouTube moving forward. 3BD plans on utilizing YouTube as a place to develop audience and IP. Working with the community on IP development, through the YouTube platform, is a key differentiator for us.
What does Hank Stepleton bring to the table for original series for online?
Angelo Pullen: Hank brings a proven track record of creating content that sells. Hank has produced 12 major TV shows and most recently served as executive producer of the popular American Reality TV Show, Duck Dynasty. Duck Dynasty has broken several ratings records on both A&E and cable television as a whole. The fourth season premiere drew 11.8 million viewers, the most-watched non-fiction cable series in history. Hank will develop content and pitches for digital outlets, as well as traditional cable outlets.
Luke Stepleton: Hank brings a level of professionalism that enables 3BD to immediately become a force in the content production realm. Oh, and he is my brother, whose intelligence, integrity, hard work ethic, and dogged persistence have been integral in my professional development.
With so many TVs offering YouTube anyway, how do you see the concept of entertainment evolving across devices?
Angelo Pullen: I think with the creation of more platforms and content, we will start to see more and more serialized content being created for specific niche communities/demographics and they will be offered up to people to consume the content where they like, when they like.
Luke Stepleton: The most difficult part about the future is “Discoverability,” it is an uphill battle for all content creators. 3Blackdot solves the problem of discoverability for its clients on the agency side of our business, as well as for our own IP.
What opportunities does Android TV open up for you as game developers and entertainment creators?
Angelo Pullen: I think with services such as Android TV and Amazon Fire TV, the barrier of entry for indie game developers & publishers has dropped significantly. It’s an exciting time when you create content and games that are platform & device agnostic and can be played on your big screen or taken with you on your mobile device, while still providing a seamless engaging experience.
Luke Stepleton: Android TV is a huge opportunity for 3BD. We are stoked to work with OTTs on developing content with audience already in mind — working with the influencers and their audience to develop IP that appeals to massive cross platform audiences.
What role will YouTubers play in the actual company?
Angelo Pullen: Adam “SeaNanners” Montoya, and Tom “TheSyndicateProject” Cassell are two of our co-founders and partners in 3BlackDot. Not only do they share our vision, but are providing much of the creative direction for our games and content. Moving forward, we look to partner with more YouTube and social media Influencers who share our collective vision towards building exciting IP, content, and games.
Luke Stepleton: Adam and Tom are co-founders in 3BlackDot, and like all co-founders they will play an important role: From developing IP creatively, to input on how to more authentically to work with audiences, and finally as thought leaders in their respective space.
Will you be an official YouTube partner and host YouTubers and creators (like Machinima did)?
Angelo Pullen: We do have a collective of YouTubers that is a part of 3BD, but for the time being, we are not looking to aggregate a massive amount of channels. We are much more focused on partnering with YouTubers who are like-minded and want to create compelling assets (i.e. games and content)
Luke Stepleton: Though we understand the correlation to Machinima, our desire is to partner with content creators to create value with influence. Empowering both the company and content creators to deliver truly engaging entertainment properties.
How will you work with consumer brands across gaming and entertainment?
Angelo Pullen: My and Luke’s core competency while at Machinima was working with consumer brands and helping them authentically integrate their products and services into the YouTube ecosystem. As we move forward, we are excited about all of the new ways we can leverage new technology, games and content to drive engaged audiences to a brand’s products and services. We believe the definition of branded entertainment is going to take an entirely new shape as we begin to harness the power of mobile devices.
Luke Stepleton: 3BlackDot firmly believes that any demographic can be reached by leveraging “Peer to Peer” marketing techniques. We firmly believe the most difficult part of the future is discoverability, and that goes for brands as well as content creators. Working with the Influencers inside the YouTube and social media eco-systems can empower any brand to strategically target their desired demo.