The Israeli Who Turned YouTube Video Into $500m Disney Acquisition

Media entrepreneur Ynon Kreiz built Maker Studios into video powerhouse with some 5.5 billion views every month.

Walt Disney: Targeting the online audience with its purchase of Maker Studios.
Walt Disney: Targeting the online audience with its purchase of Maker Studios.Credit: AP

The man who built YouTube video producer Maker Studios into a $500 million – and perhaps as much as $950 million – acquisition by Walt Disney Company is Israeli-born media entrepreneur Ynon Kreiz.

On Monday, Disney agreed to buy Maker, which helps produce and distribute videos to more than 380 million subscribers worldwide across more than 55,000 channels. Its videos now collectively garner some 5.5 billion views every month and should help draw more teens into the Disney entertainment empire.

Kreiz came to Maker two years ago as an investor and chairman. Last year, he replaced Maker’s founder, Danny Zapin. “It became more obvious that we had to run Maker in sync with the potential in terms of where it can go,” Kreiz told the All Things D technology website at the time.

Last fall, Kreiz undertook a makeover of the company’s operations, telling the entertainment daily Variety that he aimed to make Mover more akin to broadcast outlets like MTV and ESPN, rather than a by-the-seat-of-the-pants YouTube outlet. “Those who have figured out how to program to niches organize themselves in a way that aggregates audiences around key demographics and interest groups,” he told the paper.

Kreiz, 49, is a graduate of Tel Aviv University, but he didn’t stay in Israel long after graduation. He got an MBA from the UCLA and shortly afterwards met the Israeli-American entertainment mogul Haim Saban. Even though he had no media experience and was not yet 30-years-old, Kreiz was appointed to a senior post at Saban Entertainment. Later, he became co-founder and CEO of the European unit of Saban’s Fox Kids, which Fox sold to Walt Disney in 2001.

Kreiz then moved on to become a general partner at the venture capital fund Balderton Capital, formerly known as Benchmark Capital Europe, which specializes in media investments. In 2007, he was appointed chairman and CEO of Endemol, the Dutch company that rose to fame and fortune by developing the “Big Brother” reality television franchise.

His stint at Endemol may be a period of his life he would prefer to forget. Kreiz left the company four years later, after its business declined and it became mired in debt. While at Endemol, however, Kreiz kept up his Israeli connection, buying a half interest in the Israeli firm Kuperman Productions, which has had such notable hits as the Israeli series “Ramzor” (“Traffic Light”) and the Israeli version of “Big Brother.” Kreiz eventually sold his stake in Kuperman to Endemol.

Kreiz may now be headed for a career at Disney. He will reportedly remain at the helm of Maker Studios, which is based in Culver City, California, and report to Jay Rasulo, Disney’s chief financial officer.

With reporting by Reuters.

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