Tag: Rooster Teeth

Fullscreen Buys Austin-based Rooster Teeth

Burnie Burns and Matt Hullum, photo courtesy of Annie Ray

Burnie Burns and Matt Hullum, photo courtesy of Annie Ray

Rooster Teeth, which started 11 years ago in Burnie Burns’ spare bedroom in Austin, just got acquired by Fullscreen, a global youth media company based in Los Angeles.

Rooster Teeth created the long running video series on the Internet Red Vs. Blue. The company has about 70 employees in Austin and will remain here, operating as a subsidiary of Fullscreen with Burns and Matt Hullum heading up the operations. Silicon Hills News did this profile of the company back in April.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The acquisition means Fullscreen will continue to support Rooster Teeth’s shows and help them develop new content. It will also accelerate Fullscreen’s expansion into both live and animated content. It plans to expand its merchandise and live events and “integrate the innovative gaming and culture brand into its technology and advertising infrastructure.”

Otter Media, a venture between The Chernin Group and AT&T, recently acquired a majority stake in Fullscreen.

“Rooster Teeth is one of the strongest and most authentic media brands in the world amongst 18-34 year old, male-skewing audiences,” George Strompolos, Fullscreen CEO and founder, said in a news release. “The combination of its massive reach, unique creative voice and insanely powerful community makes it a perfect match for Fullscreen. Burnie and Matt are widely recognized as true pioneers in the world of online video. It’s an honor to team up with them as Fullscreen continues to redefine youth media.”

Rooster Teeth has an estimated fan base of eight million. It holds the Rooster Teeth Expo, an annual convention celebrating gaming and Internet culture every year in Austin.

“Recently, the company crowd-funded nearly $2.5 million to produce “Lazer Team,” which broke records as the most funded film on Indiegogo to date,” according to a news release.

“At Rooster Teeth, we have a long history of creating the best digital content in the industry,” Burnie Burns, Rooster Teeth creative director, said in a news release. “With Fullscreen, we look forward to continuing that tradition in even bigger and better ways. Matt and I are excited about the opportunities this alliance will present for our creators and all the amazing content it will empower them to produce for our audience.”

RTX 2014 30,000 Fans Descend on Austin Convention Center

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Rooster Teeth Convention, Photos by Leslie Anne Jones

Rooster Teeth Convention, Photos by Leslie Anne Jones

Thousands formed a line that snaked through the convention center foyer Friday morning, awaiting the beginning of the three-day RTX conference that included game designers, purveyors of Internet-culture miscellany, and most importantly appearances by the well-loved Rooster Teeth crew.

RTX started in 2011 as a fan event for Rooster Teeth, the online entertainment production house made famous by Red vs. Blue, a web series that combines video game play and voice over animation. The show is now in its eleventh season, and Rooster Teeth has diversified into new web series, podcasts and branded merchandise.

The first RTX event had 600 attendees, the following year it was 4,000. Last year saw 10,000 attendees, and this year tripled that – some came from as far as England and Australia. Attendees tested out new video games and attended panels like “Top Strategies for YouTube Gaming Creators” and “VFX: Digitally Blowing Stuff Up for Fun & Profit.” Some came in costume, as storm troopers or Bat Man villain Bane and also as Ruby, the super hero with a red cape who stars in Rooster Teeth’s most popular recent creation, RWBY. Many attendees were teenagers, the convention center lobby area had a parents lounge for chaperones.

Frank Motomochi and Katie Cates from San Antonio, photo by Leslie Anne Jones

Frank Motomochi and Katie Cates from San Antonio, photo by Leslie Anne Jones

In some ways, RTX is similar to the much bigger Comic-Con events that happen around the country, but on a more personable scale. RTX booths hosted lots of indie game companies, and the designers were present at many booths. Plus, Rooster Teeth founder Burnie Burns was spotted walking through the exhibition hall on Friday, mingling with fans – a more authentic interaction than the autograph tables of Comic-Con.

In the exhibition hall, I was invited to test Chariot, a game for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One made by Frima Studios of Quebec, Canada. The main character is a princess. Player two is her fiancé. “He’s there to help,” game designer Alex Van Chestein explained. The mission is to haul a chariot carrying the coffin of the princess’ dead father to its final resting place. The dead king is a ghost, and he pipes in with banter, but the patriarch has no agency, no one will play him. It’s up to the princess and her partner to shoulder him along.

“I really wanted the female character to be a badass,” Van Chestein said. “It goes against convention, but it felt right.”

panel watchers 2The gaming industry has been roundly criticized for its boys-club culture, even though research shows about half of gamers are women. At this year’s RTX, inclusivity seemed to be on the mind of industry workers.

During a panel introducing Sunset Overdrive, an open-world shooter loaded with referential humor, presenter Brandon Winfrey noted that character choices came in male, female and gender neutral. “If you want to be a dude in a skit, that’s fine. It’s fun.”

People waited patiently for a chance to play Titanfall, a product of California-based Respond Entertainment, which was created by the makers of juggernaut-game Call of Duty – when Call of Duty: Ghosts came out in 2013, it had sales of $1 billion on its first day.

Abbie Heppe is Titan Fall’s community manager – a job title that encompasses marketing, voiceover work for the game, and a lot of playing time in order to relay feedback to the development team

Heppe, who is 32, has been gaming for almost two decades. Back in the nineties when she played Quake and Doom, a gamer who was female didn’t have to reveal her gender, whereas now with voice-chat enabled play, things are much less anonymous.

“Companies are aware of it,” Heppe said of sexism in game play. “We think about it a lot too: How can you make the gaming experience better?”

Friday evening events were cancelled due to a bomb threat, but things were rescheduled and the rest of the weekend went smoothly.

The speedy rise of RTX is no surprise to those familiar with the trajectory of Rooster Teeth.

Exhibition hall square head

Exhibition hall square head

The company recently moved into a much-bigger space at Austin Studios and also announced plans for its first feature-length, live-action comedy. According to crowd-funding website Indiegogo, Rooster Teeth met its initial funding goal ($650,000) in 10 hours. To date, more than $2.2 million has been raised for the project, making it the most-funded film ever through Indiegogo.

In its early days, Rooster Teeth’s fans were predominantly male, but that too is changing. Achievement Hunter, a comedic series where staff demonstrate game play and make jokes over it, garners a mixed audience. And RWBY, Rooster Teeth’s Americanized anime that follows four girls with super powers and big weapons who battle evil, has really tipped the scale

At RTX, Rooster Teeth announced its expansion into video game development. RWBY will be its first show to become a game. Conference goers were able to play a demo version of the game created and presented to Rooster Teeth by 19-year-old fan Jordan Scott. Scott is now working at Rooster Teeth to develop the full version.

Scott’s story echoes that of Rooster Teeth’s founders. The company is sustained by a passion for gaming culture parlayed into new products delivered to a fan base that has continued to grow.

Austin Entrepreneurs Advocate for Immigration Reform

Founder of Silicon Hills News


Immigration laws haven’t kept pace with the digital economy, said Burnie Burns, founder of Austin-based Rooster Teeth.

Burns spoke on a panel of entrepreneurs promoting immigration reform Tuesday night at Techstars’ offices in downtown Austin. Erika Sumner, co-founder of Social Good TV, moderated the event.

The other panelists included Anurag Kumar, CEO of iTexico, a web and mobile app development company and Kristel Viidek and Marko Kruustuk, co-founders of Testlio, a mobile app testing service.

FWD.us and Partnership for a New American Economy are hosting events in nine cities in two weeks with the goal of accelerating immigration reform.

The Austin event attracted more than 50 people for a two-hour discussion featuring two panels.

The entrepreneurs took to the stage first. In 2004, Burns founded Rooster Teeth, which has the fourth most watched YouTube channel in the world with 5 billion views. He discussed his problems getting visas for immigrants to work for his company.

Burns ran into a lot of trouble when he tried to bring, Gavin Free, 18, from the United Kingdom to work for him.

Free is an expert on slow motion video and he’s a viral Internet hit, Burns said. Free created a video of him jumping on a six-foot water balloon in his backyard in slow motion, which has more than 50 million views on YouTube.

icode-28percentBut the U.S. government issues only 85,000 H-1B high-skilled worker visas each year. And the annual quota is met every year within the first week of April; five business days after the filing period opens.

“We had to go through all these processes to get him to qualify for a visa,” Burns said. Free’s age and educational level proved to be big barriers to overcome to qualify for a visa for workers of extraordinary ability, Burns said. He also had to have several letters written to immigration officials on his behalf.

In 2010, Rooster Teeth had to educate the U.S. Department of Labor about what YouTube was and why it was an important platform, Burns said. And then they had to prove why Free was an important extraordinary talent in this new industry. Rooster Teeth can employ contractors overseas in the U.K. and pay them to upload videos to from there, Burns said. But the U.S. doesn’t benefit from Rooster Teeth sending money to them aboard.

“My channel can be global but my company really can’t,” Burns said.

Immigration reform needs to address emerging technologies and ways to get talent to the U.S. to fuel those industries, Burns said.

In the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos metro area, companies filed requests for 3,087 H-1B visas in 2010-2011, according to FWD.us. They paid a minimum of $1,575 for each H-1B application.

The founders of Testlio, Viidik and Kruustuk from Estonia might have to leave the country to grow their startup. The two launched their company in London and moved to Austin to participate in the Techstars program. They would like to stay here but they are having trouble getting visas. They may have to move their company back to London.

Another panelist, Kumar, founder of iTexico, immigrated to the United States at the age of 21 with no money, no family and no friends. Thanks to the immigration policy of the 1980s, he was able to get his green card and stay and start his first company when he was 25.

“I wonder what if the green card processing took six years, seven years or ten years like it does now where would I be right now? I probably would have had to do something else,” Kumar said.

Last week, the government of Mexico honored his company, iTexico, an Austin-based mobile and Web development company, with the 2014 National Entrepreneurship Award in the small business category.

“Talent is everything,” Kumar said.

And U.S. companies are in a global competition to attract the best talent to fuel growth in their businesses and the economy.

BmWSEXBCEAAbD0e-1Yet a mismatch between job openings in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields and the current workforce in Austin exists, said Michelle Skelding, vice president of technology for the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Skelding spoke on a second panel of experts which included John Holmes, vice president of legal at Freescale Semiconductor, Peter French, president of Café Commerce in San Antonio and Ramey Ko, attorney with Jung Ko PLLC.

Currently Austin has 8,000 job openings, as of March 2014, for computer science and math jobs, Skelding said. And there are 29,000 net job openings beyond that, she said. Austin has an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent right now. So there’s a gap in available talent and jobs.

Austin universities graduate 3,000 people in the STEM fields every year, so there’s a huge need and gap in the talent pool, Skelding said.

“We need to look internationally to fill those jobs and we’re not going to displace anyone in the process,” Skelding said.

For every H1-B visa filled there’s a positive correlation with job creation with 7.5 jobs created, Skelding said.

Freescale Semiconductor has 4,500 employees in Austin and hired 115 people in Austin last year.

“Eighty percent of the folks we are hiring require immigration assistance,” Holmes said.

Freescale currently has 250 employees on H1-B visas, he said.

“The wait for those folks, I think for us is four to eight years,” Holmes said.

The worst day for the UPS man in Austin isn’t Christmas but the H1-B visa deadline day, Holmes said. In the “bizarre lottery system” for H1-B Visas this year, Freescale got 60 H1-B Visas out of the 120 applications, he said.

“Freescale would like to see the H1-B visa cap raised dramatically or eliminated,” Holmes said.

Freescale also supports the right to work initiative which allows a graduate of an accredited U.S. university with a master’s degree or higher in a STEM field to automatically get a visa.

Small businesses and startups aren’t participating in the H1-B Visa process, said Peter French, president of Café Commerce in San Antonio. The process needs to be fixed, he said.

Some of the programs to obtain visas for immigrants are underutilized, French said. To find a solution, businesses need to think more creatively about how to keep immigrants in the U.S. working, French said. Research universities have an exemption, under the American Competitiveness Act for the 21st Century, for the H1-B cap, he said.

“We can do it with some of the tools we already have,” French said.

“We’re going to find a way,” he said. “The entrepreneurs are going to figure it out.”

Immigration reform legislation has been stalled in Congress, but the issue should be addressed again this fall, said Ko. The tech community from July to November should send letters, make calls and email Congress members in favor of immigration reform, he said.

The Partnership for a New American Economy is asking people to visit pnae.us/eletter to pledge support.


Rooster Teeth Rules the YouTube Roost

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Burnie Burns and Matt Hullum, photo courtesy of Annie Ray

Burnie Burns and Matt Hullum, photo courtesy of Annie Ray

It might be the biggest online entertainment production house you’ve never heard of. Rooster Teeth celebrated its eleventh anniversary on April 1, and its much-loved series Red vs. Blue, which debuted in 2003, is now the longest-running American sci-fi show and has sold 1 million DVDs.

“Dr. Who [which is British] is still longer,” founder Matt Hullum concedes.

Today, Rooster Teeth has about 70 staff members for 30 ongoing web series, two podcasts, a merchandise store and a fan community with 1.7 million registered users. The company also runs the RTX gaming and internet conference, which is expected to bring 30,000 attendees to the Austin Convention Center in July.

Rooster Teeth’s audience is typically between ages 12-28, but viewership is getting older as the company ages. Historically, fans were 80 percent male but that’s also changing with the introduction of shows with female protagonists.

In a couple weeks, the company is leaving its south Austin building for a much bigger space at Austin Studios, and with the move comes plans for bigger productions including a live-action feature, though what form it will be released in is undetermined. It may come out, like Red vs. Blue, as a chaptered series, released in five-minute episodes.

“We’re not opposed to traditional media,” says Hullum. “We’re just not interested in using the Internet as a stepping stone to get there.”

Hullum met fellow founding partner Burnie Burns in college when they were both working at Texas Student Television. Hullum loved that there were hardly any gatekeepers at the station. The freedom of student TV was the first inkling of things to come.

Hullum went to Hollywood to work in film. Back in Texas, Burns sent Hullum the beginnings of Red vs. Blue. The project was “machinima.” It was created out of video game play with voiceover narration. The comedic series focuses on a civil war waged between two teams of soldiers (red and blue), and it uses footage from the first-person shooter Halo (since season 8, it also includes original animation). Today, it is one of the most prominent examples of machinima.

The show was an immediate Internet hit. Its creators didn’t have financial expectations for it until the second season premiered at the Lincoln Center in early 2004. Hullum said he figured just New Yorkers would show up, but fans from all over the world convened on the event.

Hullum moved back to Texas shortly after that. Initially, the operation was a handful of guys working out of a one-bedroom apartment in Buda, and it was just Red vs. Blue DVD sales and merchandise that made money, but soon requests for branded content started coming in from companies like videogame maker EA.

Today, the bulk of revenue stems from original content. Hullum says they try to make sure all products have at least two income streams and they don’t like to rely on unpredictable YouTube ad revenues. For example, the weekly Rooster Teeth podcast – where staff discuss movies, video games and upcoming projects – earns money through a premium subscription service for livestream access, integrated ads that air during the show, YouTube ads when the show becomes available there and merchandise. The podcast gets hundreds of thousands of YouTube views and a new episode of a Rooster Teeth show often sees 1 million or more.

To understand the fan loyalty that’s driven Rooster Teeth’s decade-long success, it’s helpful to talk to 25-year-old community manager Barbara Dunkelman. She began watching Red vs. Blue when she was 14, and from there Rooster Teeth became a major part of her social life. She’d go on the Rooster Teeth website before school, sometimes during school, and then at night often she’d stay online until three a.m interacting with other members, hosting chats, posting journals, commenting – about half the conversation was specifically about Rooster Teeth, she says, but the other half was just socializing.

“I was always kind of nerdy, interested in video games and that kind of culture,” she says. “And the Rooster Teeth community is extremely open and welcoming. Some of my best friends to this day are people I met on the website.”

Dunkelman was one of the most prominent community members, so when Rooster Teeth was looking for a community manager, they offered her the job and sponsored her work visa (she’s Canadian). In addition to marketing and social media, Dunkelman also plays the voice of Yang Xiao Long, one of the main characters on RWBY, the company’s Americanized anime, now one of its biggest shows. Soon, her character will have its own action figure. She’s gone from fan to having fans: She has 180,000 Twitter followers.

Rooster Teeth is fairly unique. Hullum says he knows or three- or four-man teams, but nothing that rivals the scale of Rooster Teeth for the kind of content it produces.

It helped that they were early movers. When the first Red vs. Blue episodes came out, YouTube didn’t exist. Much of their original website was devoted to explaining how to watch a video with a computer. If there’s a key to Rooster Teeth’s success – aside from creating entertainment that inspires fan devotion – it’s unwavering commitment to the online sphere. Hullum knew from experience how slow Hollywood works and how big studio money can dilute an original idea.

“We’ve seen so many groups all try to go for the movie or TV show, go the traditional route,” he says, “and in doing so abandon their original fan base, then when it doesn’t work out, it’s hard or impossible to rebuild.”

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