Verizon invests in online video studio AwesomenessTV

LOS ANGELES — Could the next « House of Cards » be coming to your phone?

That’s what Verizon hopes now that it’s paid more than $100 million for a piece of the online video studio AwesomenessTV.

It’s the latest attempt by a maturing, mainstream corporation to find growth in nontraditional video programming that can reach younger audiences on smartphones and tablets.

In 2014, for instance, Disney acquired online video producer Maker Studios for a tab that eventually hit $625 million. An ATT joint venture bought Fullscreen, a similar production company, for an undisclosed sum the same year. Hollywood’s DreamWorks Animation bought AwesomenessTV in 2013, paying a total of $113 million after the studio hit promised deal targets.

In some ways, these arrangements are modern — albeit much smaller — versions of classic media deals struck by companies eager to draw bigger audiences.

Think Twitter buying the rights to « Thursday Night Football, » Time Warner Cable doing likewise with Los Angeles Dodgers baseball or cable company Comcast buying NBC Universal.

The investment gives Verizon a 24.5 percent stake in AwesomenessTV and more original video for its Go90 streaming service, which launched in September. It also will help it make use of its $4.4 billion purchase of AOL last year, which gave Verizon a new capability to deliver ads on top of video.

« Verizon has concluded that trying to extract more and more money out of data usage charges is a dead-end street, » said analyst Craig Moffett of research firm MoffettNathanson. Instead, it’s been focused on selling ads targeted to where its users happen to be, which is « why they bought AOL and why they launched Go90, » he said.

Now the company is focused on building up its library of stuff to watch — and, of course, to sell ads against.

AwesomenessTV CEO and founder Brian Robbins said the money will allow it to spend more to make short-form shows with top-level talent.

That, in turn, will help it build an audience older than the teen « Generation Z » crowd it now attracts with shows like « Cheerleaders » and « Guidance. »

The idea, Robbins said, is to make shows on par with the « high end of premium subscription services — HBO, Netflix or Showtime. »

Verizon would reserve some of that programming for a new paid Go90 tier it plans to launch this year or early next.

But the investment — valued at roughly $159 million — is tiny relative to Verizon Communications Inc.’s $217 billion market value and at best represents a baby step by the mobile carrier.

« Even if these things double in two years, which is a high growth rate, so what? » said Hal Vogel, an analyst with Vogel Capital Management. « My feeling is that if they’re going to make a statement in media and entertainment, they should make one giant statement instead of picking off these odds and ends. »

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