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Michael Palmer co-founded Clevver, a YouTube powerhouse

Clevver Media creates content for its seven YouTube channels, most of which focus on facets of the entertainment industry and target specific audiences.

February 12, 2012|By Dawn C. Chmielewski, Los Angeles Times
  • "The one thing thats been a real uphill battle," Clevver Media co-founder Michael Palmer says, "is proving to people that you can have a professional YouTube channel that produces professional content.
"The one thing thats been a real uphill battle," Clevver Media… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)

The gig: Michael Palmer is co-founder and executive producer of Clevver Media, a nearly 6-year-old Hollywood company that has launched seven YouTube channels, including its flagship, ClevverTV, a teen version of TMZ or E! that provides entertainment and celebrity news for the "Twilight" generation.

The intern: As a film production major at USC, Palmer interned for one of the most successful producers in Hollywood: Jerry Bruckheimer, whose credits include the popular "CSI" television series and "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie franchise. Palmer said he performed mostly "grunt work," like fetching Bruckheimer's lunch or stocking the kitchen, but "loved every minute of it."

"That was a real eye-opening experience, going from being a film student from San Diego who has these ideas of Hollywood, to working for Jerry Bruckheimer, who is the biggest [name] you can get, in terms of making movies," said Palmer, 32. "It really showed me this is a business, just like every other industry, although the way this industry works is wacky."

Dot-com crash: When the dot-com investing bubble burst in 2000, plenty of people working for once-hot Internet ventures lost their jobs. Amid all the dislocation, Palmer made a contrarian choice: He left Jerry Bruckheimer Films in fall 2000 to join online video start-up FMiTV Networks Inc., which streamed music videos, movie trailers, backstage interviews and other content. His college experience with the music file-sharing service Napster convinced him that the Internet would revolutionize how people accessed their entertainment. He wanted to get on the bus.

"Everyone was laying people off. People were realizing, 'Hey, there isn't money in the Internet right now,'" Palmer recalled. "I got hired at the company [FMiTV] the day they laid off half of their employees."

A clever idea: The Internet play ultimately fizzled, but that didn't damp Palmer's enthusiasm for Web video. He and Clevver Media co-founder Jorge Maldonado — a software engineer and Web developer he worked with at FMiTV — took note of YouTube's stratospheric growth. They predicted Internet users would one day get bored with funny cat videos and start looking for high-quality, professionally produced content.

ClevverTV was born in 2006 as a stand-alone website. By 2008, Palmer and Maldonado had created a channel on YouTube, thinking it would drive traffic to their website. With the help of YouTube's partner program, ClevverTV gained more subscribers — and started sharing in ad revenue.

"We sat down one day and said, YouTube is the de facto video company. We can't really compete with them on the video side with our ClevverTV website — especially because we had no funding, no investors," Palmer said. "So we said, let's go from being a website to being a YouTube company. We switched over and went full force into YouTube."

The 'Twilight' effect: ClevverTV began producing original programming in April 2008 with an "Entertainment Tonight"-style news show that aired monthly. Hosts Dana Ward and Joslyn Davis would write their scripts at home and shoot segments in a rented studio. The program, with its focus on teen celebrities, attracted a large audience on YouTube. Subscribers, views and advertising grew — prompting ClevverTV to increase the frequency of the webcasts to daily in summer 2010.

"We really saw huge growth in 2010 — we're talking millions of views," Palmer said. "So by the end of 2011, we said, 'Hey, we gotta get an office. We gotta do this right.' So we moved into this office in Hollywood."

Multi-channel news: Palmer and his partner expanded Clevver Media, which now boasts seven channels that span movies, music and games. YouTube's original content initiative provided financial help to launch three new channels. A new Spanish-language entertainment channel, ClevverTeVe, debuted in November. ClevverStyle went live in December, offering fashion and beauty advice with an eye on celebrities. ClevverNews, a celebrity gossip and industry news channel aimed at slightly older female viewers, started last month.

Palmer says the channels collectively generate some 50 million monthly views and have attracted 800,000 subscribers.

"The one thing that's been a real uphill battle is proving to people that you can have a professional YouTube channel that produces professional content and is a legitimate resource for people to get their news or entertainment," Palmer said.

Personal: Born in Irvine, Palmer graduated from Torrey Pines High School in San Diego County. He now lives in Newport Beach with his girlfriend, Bridget Koenig. He enjoys traveling, cooking, eating and watching movies. His favorite is "Back to the Future."

dawn.chmielewski@latimes.com

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