Founders of eSports and Gaming Network Speed Up Launch

Ariel Horn and Ben Kusin, co-founders of VENN (Video Game Entertainment & News Network), plan to launch their eSports, gaming and pop culture network in July, three months ahead of schedule. To do so, they are raising $40 million, building a Los Angeles studio, hiring, and setting up creators to program from home. The 24/7 linear network is aimed at the streaming generation, including hardcore eSports fans and casual gamers. VENN already raised $17 million from Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, Riot Games co-chair Marc Merrill and Blizzard Entertainment co-founder Mike Morhaime.

Bloomberg reports that, “recent hires include former Vice Media chief technology officer Scott Gillies, who will fill the same position at VENN, and Chris Kindt, who ran media strategy and partnerships at T-Mobile US.”

The company currently has 35 full-time employees and plans to hire 30 more by launch. According to Horn, an Emmy Award-winning producer who once ran Riot Games’ eSports content, he and Kusin want VENN to be “the central media hub unifying gaming across different titles, publishers, leagues and countries.”

“Never in a million years would I have thought that proof of concept would come under these terms, on this timetable,” said Kusin, a former Vivendi Games executive. “But it did, and it’s here, so we’re pushing forward as best we can.”

The Verge reports that, “the network plans to offer a constant schedule of highly produced shows that revolve around professional eSports, gaming culture, and video game news … [including] live and prerecorded shows with charismatic hosts.” VENN hasn’t revealed yet where the channel will be carried, “but the intention is to have it bundled alongside other niche channels in a cable package … [while] some content will also stream on Twitch and YouTube.”

Although G4TV, which ran from 2002-2014, tried and failed to do something similar, “VENN’s founders think that G4TV had the right idea — just not at the right time.” Now, they pointed out, “91 percent of Gen Z plays video games and participates in gaming culture … [and they] want to serve that audience with big-budget, high-production shows geared toward what they’re already playing.”

VENN plans to “work with creators, including possibly licensing video series that creators upload to YouTube, and then throw audiences back to that personality’s original channel.”

“There are creators out there who get trending videos that have millions of views, and who are actually creating TV formats, but they don’t quite think of in terms of it as a TV show,” said Kusin. “They just think of it as user generated content. So we’re going to give you X amount of dollars, and turn that video into a 30 or 60 minute show.”

The duo has “already signed several creators in the space to host new shows, including a new late-night series,” but won’t name names. Likewise, they say they are “finalizing deals with seven different distribution partners,” which they will soon announce. “Traditional executives at network TV are starting to get it,” said Horn. “There’s a whole world of programming that isn’t on traditional television that would work on television, and that’s our whole conceit.”