NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- When Disney (DIS) purchased YouTube network Maker Studios in March, the criticism wasn't as harsh as greeted the company's $4.64 billion acquisition of Marvel Entertainment in 2009. After all, for just $950 million ($500 million plus an extra $450 million conditional on a performance target), Disney was able to instantly procure the 4 billion monthly views of Maker's content. In the following six months, that figure has more than doubled to 9 billion, so on the surface nearly $1 billion seems a savvy investment.
Still, Maker Studios as a brand was untested and its reliance on YouTube as its distribution model disparate to Disney's regular method of operations. With more than 50,000 channels on Google's (GOOGL) video site, Maker (and by extension, Disney) remains at YouTube's whim, subject to a 50-50 revenue split on advertising.
Disney's CFO Jay Rasulo, addressing investors at Goldman Sachs' Communacopia Conference Wednesday, silenced doubters with one prediction: Maker Studios will be as big as Marvel Studios.
It can be easy to forget given the unparalleled success Marvel has seen recently, but five years ago, analysts throught CEO Bob Iger mad for buying the company at a 29% premium on a stock price already overvalued relative to earnings power. What's more, the deal didn't guarantee rights to two of the most popular Marvel franchises -- Spider-Man (Sony (SNE) ) and X-Men (Fox (FOXA) ).
Then came the hits. Of the four films released since 2012 (excluding Guardians of the Galaxy), the worldwide box office has totalled nearly $4.1 billion. Guardians, the studio's most recent film, has generated $296.4 million in domestic markets since its release in August, becoming the year's highest-grossing film, a great feat given the relative obscurity of the characters within the Marvel library.
Maker's short-form content won't give Disney the big box-office hits nor the glitzy red carpet premieres, but it does give entry into a booming alternative media market online and another outlet to peddle its gargantuan stable of properties. On top of that, Disney will have the opportunity to carve itself a cut of a burgeoning digital video advertising market. The segment generated revenue of $4.15 billion in 2013 and continues to grow at a rate of 43% year over year, according to data from research firm eMarketer.
If Disney can pull that off, it will have another multibillion property on its books, joining the ranks of Marvel, Pixar and LucasFilms.
-- Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.