Base79: Ashley MacKenzie

How Ashley MacKenzie has carved a niche in the media - with help from his famous father

If your father was one of the most famous names in British publishing, you’d be forgiven for avoiding a media career at all costs. But for Ashley MacKenzie, son of former Sun editor and controversial broadcast pundit Kelvin, dad’s legacy has been a blessing. In fact, it has played a crucial role in enabling him to set up Base79, a business-to-business company that helps owners of original video content distribute, protect and monetise their content online.

Founded in 2007 as MyVideoRights, Base79 works with the creators of all kinds of entertainment – from music videos to sports highlight packages – before distributing the content to the likes of YouTube, Hulu and Daily Motion. The proposition has already reaped huge rewards; between 2009 and 2011 the company recorded revenue growth of 805% a month, and at one stage it was the second fastest-growing media firm in Europe.

MacKenzie says he conjured the idea for Base79 when working in content distribution for a company called Music Choice. “While there, I saw that YouTube was sold for $1.65bn, even though it was generating hardly any revenue, and none of that was getting to the content owner.

“That seemed strange; in my media experience, the lion’s share of the revenue goes to the content owner, the one who had the ‘eureka’ moment. So we started thinking about how we could create a business to allow the content creator to see their share of the value created.”

Base79 doesn’t see itself as a crusader against piracy; MacKenzie says that “sometimes people uploading pirate copies are often your fans, and they shouldn’t be sued”. However, the company is determined to negotiate fair and realistic contracts for its clients with the major content providers, and take care of all aspects of IP protection, from legal advice to marketing.

MacKenzie explains that his company is “a bit like a broadcaster”. “Channel 4 commissions publishing from third parties, independent TV production companies and sports rights holders, and distributes that content through a distribution network, which in this case is a television network, and wraps advertising around it. We do all of that, except we have not built a consumer-facing brand.” The branded Mr Bean channel on YouTube is a good example of this, with Base 79 responsible for everything the consumer sees, including the ad sales.

Rather than charge a flat fee for its services, Base79 takes complete ownership of its clients’ content, and takes a percentage of all advertising revenue it accrues. This model has helped secure a string of blue-chip clients, including Ministry of Sound, the History Channel and the Football Association – cementing Base79′s reputation as a leading player in its space.

MacKenzie has sought to utilise his old man’s expertise whenever possible; his father has served as chairman since Base79′s inception, and led an initial friends and family funding round to help the company get off the ground. Kelvin’s contacts also helped his son lure Peter Bazalgette, former chief creative officer at Endemol, the company behind Big Brother, in a non-executive director’s role, opening up a wealth of knowledge and senior industry contacts.

Building on his father’s seed funding, MacKenzie has recently completed a Series A funding round worth £2.75m, led by MMC Ventures with support from the existing management team.  The funding was provided in two instalments, in March 2010 and September 2011, and has enabled the founder to pursue international expansion; last summer MacKenzie moved his firm’s head office from London to New York..

“In our business, we work with content partners, and the US represents the biggest international acquirer of content and the biggest exporter of content. We felt it was important to get a presence here, a statement of intent more than anything”.

The move to New York is just a small part of MacKenzie’s growth strategy. Indeed, he changed his company’s name to Base79 last summer in an attempt to grow the business from an online specialist to a holistic digital platform.

“Although MyVideoRights had been great for several years, we saw increasing opportunities on IP-connected TVs and tablets, and our name felt a bit too dot.com. Base79 gave us a bit more breadth to embrace the new opportunities. We’ve recently hired a new CTO, and we’re building a technology team that can distribute content across all platforms, tapping into apps as well as our core partners, such as YouTube”.

Moving forward, MacKenzie says he intends to open an LA office by the end of the year, with a view to accessing the huge Spanish-speaking content market. Although he admits it will be hard to repeat the meteoric growth of the last two years, he is excited about the opportunities ahead.

“The UK TV ad market is worth $6bn dollars a year, the US TV ad market is worth about $72bn dollars a year… this is a huge market, which is showing no signs of slowing down. As our business has evolved, a lot of bets that we’ve made, such as the rise of YouTube and social media, have come true, and we think we’re well-positioned to understand the changing content world.”

 

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