AwesomenessTV CEO Brian Robbins is leaving the company he co-founded and has run for the last five years, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.
Robbins sent a note to the staff of his teen-centric digital company Wednesday morning announcing, "the time is right for me to pass the baton and seek new challenges."
His move comes nearly six months after Comcast's NBCUniversal completed its $3.8 billion acquisition of Awesomeness parent company DreamWorks Animation, a deal that led to the departure of DWA CEO and Awesomeness champion Jeffrey Katzenberg.
In his memo to staff, a copy of which the company provided to THR, Robbins says that Awesomeness president Brett Bouttier will assume leadership of the company and will look for a creative partner to help him run the business. Robbins, 53, will stay with the company through the transition.
"I will always carry this company in my heart and I am forever grateful to each of you for your hard work, dedication and love that you have put into our business," he writes. "You should be proud of what we have built together, I certainly am. And I can't wait to see what's next for AwesomenessTV's success."
A longtime producer known for Smallville and Varsity Blues, Robbins started Awesomeness in 2012 with producing partner Joe Davola. What began as a YouTube channel for the tween set funded through the streamer's original channel initiative has in the intervening years grown into a diversified media business. In addition to producing digital series for YouTube, Netflix and other digital platforms, Awesomeness operates a network of YouTube talent, owns management company Big Frame and runs millennial mom brand Awestruck. Its first theatrical feature, Before I Fall, starring Zoey Deutch and Halston Sage, premiered at Sundance.
DreamWorks Animation acquired Awesomeness in 2013 for at least $33 million and the following year sold a minority stake to Hearst. Then, in April last year it struck a deal with Verizon that boosted Awesomeness' valuation to $650 million, part of a larger partnership between the two firms that included a lucrative distribution pact for Verizon's go90 app and plans for a premium video streaming service.
But earlier this month, Verizon and Awesomeness announced that they were scrapping their planned streaming service, described as an HBO of sorts for shortform video. Instead, Awesomeness said it would invest those resources into producing more content for the ad-supported go90 platform.
Following the sale of DWA to Comcast, Awesomeness is now part of an operating unit known as DreamWorks New Media. Verizon and Hearst remain minority investors. In August, as part of DWA's last quarterly earnings report as a stand-alone company, the new media division, which included AwesomenessTV, grew its revenue 89 percent to $27.6 million.
Robbins, who sources say is exploring plans for a new venture, has been seen as integral to the success of Awesomeness, which has thrived as competitors like Maker Studios have conducted layoffs and seen high executive turnover.
"This company was built on a culture of creativity," he writes in his staff memo. "I urge you all to keep forging ahead on that road. Change creates opportunities for creativity to blossom. Use this change to discover new talent, break boundaries and have no fear. I know that you all will continue to create awesomeness."
It's not just Robbins moving on. Katzenberg, who was to serve as chairman of DreamWorks New Media, was granted a release from his contract, according to a source familiar with the agreement. He is now at work on a new venture, a planned $750-million fund for investing in digital media and technology companies called WndrCo.