L.A. Digital Media Firm Attn: Expands From Bite-Sized Videos To TV Specials
After the February high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., digital media company Attn: teamed with ABC News and Freeform to air an hourlong documentary that followed the teen survivors as "they turned their unimaginable grief and fear into action during the weeks after the attack."
"For Our Lives: Parkland" included coverage of national walkouts and protests as well as explainers that broke down complex topics such as gun laws and semiautomatic weapons into bite-sized segments.
The special, which aired last month, represented a big step for the L.A.-based start-up known for popular online videos that usually explore social and political themes in under three minutes.
Following the motto of "content everywhere," Attn: is turning its social media model into serialized content and hourlong TV specials with major networks. Its short videos draw 500 million views a month across various platforms, making it attractive to networks and studios eager to reach younger viewers who are bypassing cable TV and increasingly turning to their phones for entertainment and news.
"Our biggest competitive advantage is we have a built-in audience," said Matthew Segal, co-founder of Attn:. "We can prove the efficacy of our formats first, and then, when we're talking to a network, we're able to show that it already works."
To handle the growing volume of TV work, Attn: recently moved out of its cramped offices on Melrose to a 15,500-square-foot spread on Hollywood's Seward Street. The company, which has 130 employees, plans to hire 100 more workers in the next year.
Attn: — the unusual name is a play on the abbreviated form of "attention" — was founded by Matthew Segal and Jarrett Moreno in 2014. The pair previously ran OurTime.org, a nonprofit organization focused on registering young Americans to vote.
"When we asked people the biggest reason they didn't vote, they always said they didn't understand why they should," Segal, 32, said. "We decided we could have a bigger impact through media and storytelling."
Though they eschew political alignment, progressive ideals are in their DNA. One of Attn:'s videos, "Dads and moms should share parenting roles," questions gender responsibilities in under two minutes. "Toilet paper isn't our only option" makes a case for conservation in 74 seconds. Combined, those videos boast more than 100 million views on Facebook.
The messages are wrapped in accessible packages of animation, entertainment and celebrity appearances. One video features Snoop Dogg rolling a blunt as he says, "If you want your marijuana to be legal, then you got to vote in this election."
Attn: aims to catch people in their transitional moments — on a bus or waiting in line for coffee — and also when they sit to watch television.
The company raised around $24 million through two rounds of fundraising, with principal investors including Evolution Media Capital, Marc Rowan, Paul Wachter and Main Street Advisors.
The new Hollywood headquarters has all the makings of a "cool" company. In one hallway, a wooden bookshelf rotates to reveal a secret speakeasy lounge. An orange slide offers an alternative to the stairs.
The extra space is needed to handle upcoming TV projects.
The company is developing an animated series with Ellen DeGeneres that explores cultural issues of the day. The series will be featured on DeGeneres' talk show in addition to Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Also in the works is a scripted series with YouTuber and comedian Lilly Singh that uses sketch comedy to examine topical themes.
And Paramount Television is working with Attn: to turn its popular "America Versus" web series, which compares political, social and cultural differences between the U.S. and other countries, into a TV show.
The 60 or so videos in the series — ranging from Sweden's trash system to comparisons of public restrooms in the U.S. and Japan — have drawn around 800 million views over the last 18 months and caught the eye of Paramount Television President Amy Powell.
"I loved the idea of the global conversation being truly global and looking at how we as Americans compare and contrast to the rest of the world," Powell said. "This show attacks that head on."
Powell was drawn to the show's authentic storytellers and its built-in audience, a demographic that she says is largely underserved.
"As we look at the show's specific reach, it's young and social by nature," Powell said. "They don't want to be spoken down to. They want to be served information that's real and authentic, and Attn: has proven they're capable of doing that."
The average American adult reportedly spends 10 hours a day looking at a screen, which means the market is ever-expanding — as is the competition. Websites like NowThis and Upworthy have developed strong social media followings. Bigger name bands such as BuzzFeed and Vice have similarly developed production deals and, in the case of the latter, a cable channel.
Executives declined to disclose their finances but said Attn: is close to being profitable and that revenue has grown 200% annually since 2016. About 40% of its revenue comes from branded content, 30% from licensing its original content and 30% from consulting services.
"We'd like for original content to take up a bigger percentage, but we don't want it to overpower the others," said Moreno, 31. "We have a diversified business model and plan to stay well-rounded."
He and Segal acknowledge the challenge of translating short videos into longer programming. However, they're quick to argue that making a 90-second video can sometimes be just as daunting as a 20-minute piece.
"Starting with short form made us better storytellers because it made us selective about what entertains people," Segal said. "Now, we have to figure out what pulls them in and holds their attention for longer periods of time."