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  • Writer's pictureBennett Creative

The Rise and Fall of Rooster Teeth

Updated: Apr 3

The big news in the video production scene last week was the announcement that Rooster Teeth Production was shutting down. The Austin, Texas based production company, owned by Warner Bro’s Discovery, announced last Wednesday they would be closing their doors after two decades of pioneering entertainment and media. 

Rooster Teeth stood as a titan in the world of online entertainment, captivating audiences with its unique blend of humor, creativity, and innovative content. The video production company embodied the Austin vibe, irreverent and creative. Rumors and whispers have suggested that the beloved company may be on the verge of shutting down for a while, but still, Warner Bro’s pulling the plug hit hard.

Variety obtained this office memo from Jordan Levin saying, “[It’s with a heavy heart I announce that Rooster Teeth is shutting down due to challenges facing digital media resulting from fundamental shifts in consumer behavior and monetization across platforms, advertising, and patronage.” Levin went on heartfeltly add, “Our legacy is not just a collection of content but a history of pixels burned into our screens, minds, and hearts.”

The closing of Rooster Teeth was a hot topic among team members of Bennett Creative video production and marking. Social media manager, Luke Fipps, says he grew up with Rooster Teeth and is sad to see it go especially since friends are being laid off. Bennett’s Post-Supervisor, Ryan Scanlin mentioned talking with friends who worked there and how the writing was on the wall for a while. In this post, we'll look at the rich history of Rooster Teeth, exploring the factors that contributed to its success and examining the speculations surrounding its downfall.

The Genesis of Rooster Teeth

Rooster Teeth was founded in 2003 by four friends - Burnie Burns, Matt Hullum, Geoff Ramsey, and Joel Heyman - who shared a passion for video games and online content creation. What started as a small group in a spare bedroom in Austin, producing comedic machinima videos using the game "Halo" evolved into a multimedia powerhouse, a massive professional production studio in multiple cities. Rooster Teeth has long been part of the Austin film and video industry. The release of their flagship series, "Red vs. Blue," in 2003 marked the beginning of Rooster Teeth's journey to becoming a household name.

Over the years, Rooster Teeth expanded its content library to include a wide array of shows, podcasts, animations, and live-action productions. The acquisition of "The Slow Mo Guys" in 2013 and the launch of their subscription-based streaming service, Rooster Teeth First, in 2016 demonstrated the company's commitment to diversifying its content and revenue streams.

Ryan Scanlin, of Bennett Creative video production, also mentioned how Austin based Rooster Teeth, was known for poaching students from Texas State and University of Texas to intern, often for free.  Scanlin went on to say that Rooster Teeth provided a great opportunity for a number of people to break into the video production and animation world. In 2018, Rooster Teeth announced they were creating a $50,000 scholarship for students at the University of Texas involved with the student TV station TSTV, where founders Matt Hullum, Burnie Burns and Joel Heyman met.

The Success Story

Rooster Teeth's success can be attributed to its ability to adapt to the ever-changing digital landscape. The company leveraged emerging platforms such as YouTube to reach a global audience, amassing millions of subscribers and billions of views across its various channels. The loyal fanbase, affectionately known as the "RT Community," played a crucial role in the company's growth, fostering a sense of community that transcended the digital realm.

In addition to "Red vs. Blue," Rooster Teeth introduced a plethora of successful shows, including "RWBY," an anime-inspired web series that gained international acclaim. The company's podcasts, such as "The Rooster Teeth Podcast" and "Always Open," became staples in the online content creation space, showcasing the team's wit, humor, and camaraderie.

Challenges and Controversies

Despite its achievements, Rooster Teeth faced its fair share of challenges and controversies. In 2019, the company underwent a restructuring process that led to layoffs, sparking concerns among fans about the stability of the company. The departure of key personalities, such as Burnie Burns and Joel Heyman, raised questions about the creative direction and leadership of Rooster Teeth.

Moreover, the industry-wide shift towards streaming services and the rise of competing platforms added to the pressure on Rooster Teeth. The advent of COVID-19 further disrupted traditional production processes, forcing the company to adapt to remote work, impacting content creation schedules, and potentially affecting the quality and timeliness of releases.

Then accusations of a toxic work environment began to pop up. In 2022, former director, producer and content creator Kdin Jenzen complained about Rooster Teeth’s working environment and unfair treatment. Jenzen had been with the company for nine years, working long hours without proper compensation, was harassed by her acting manager and called a slur by coworkers. There have also been allegations against Ryan Haywood for inappropriate sexual conduct. This article on GamesIndustry.Biz goes into more detail.

Since 2011, Rooster Teeth has held RTX, a series of annual gaming and Internet conventions held primarily in Austin, Texas where all things gaming and internet were celebrated with the fanbase. In December 2023, Rooster Teeth GM Jordan Levin also announced the cancellation of RTX 2024, due to "never being profitable" as well as extended renovations to the Austin Convention Center. Much to fan's disappointment.

A year before the shut down fans were already speculating about a shut down. There’s a lengthy youtube video, On The Verge of Collapse spelling out the rise and fall of Rooster Teeth. In the comments on a farewell YouTube video by Charlie, or @penguinz0, many people commented with the line, "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

YouTube Farewells and a Call To Download Your Favorite Content!

Alanah Pearce, Australian video game writer and former journalist posted a YouTube video talking about the shutting down of Rooster Teeth. Pearce has worked both for Rooster Teeth and Funhaus, a division of Rooster Teeth productions based in Los Angeles, California. In the YouTube video she talks about how lots of employees, specifically at Funhaus, knew the shut down was coming, saying people were preparing, trying to expand their resumes and find other things to do.

Pearce gives a few reasons she thinks things were going downhill. She also mentions how the era of youtube gaming that Rooster Teeth thrived on was over, being replaced by streaming. Pearce talks about how internally Rooster Teeth was a mess, “it felt scattered with no long term goal”. That coupled with a toxic work environment just didn’t add up.

YouTube commenter, @TheSneezingMonkey also posted a video with his thoughts and opinions. The first thing he mentioned was how the employees were laid off, with no heads up, effective immediately, some employees finding out on social media before being told at work. He talks about how awful that is, but claims it’s on-brand for Rooster Teeth and how they’ve been operating for a while.

YouTuber @thesneezingmonkey discussing what will happen to Rooster Teeth content.
YouTube commenter @thesneezingmonkey speculating what will happen to Rooster Teeth content such as "RWBY".

People are asking what will happen to RWBY, Funhaus & Red vs Blue. The Sneezing Monkey addresses this by saying he thinks it’s out of Rooster Teeth’s hands. They have tried to sell before and it was unsuccessful, so now it’s Warner Bro’s pulling the strings and only profitability matters. The Economic Times states, “Warner Bros. Discovery is engaged in negotiations to offload the rights to specific Rooster Teeth catalog content and intellectual property, including the well-received anime-style series "RWBY."  The YouTuber points out that there is one last season of Red vs. Blue and fans want to know if it will ever come out, however Rooster Teeth didn’t actually answer the question in the memo obtained by Variety.

The Sneezing Monkey advises fans of Rooster Teeth content to get on YouTube and download your favorite content now as there’s a chance it might disappear. He goes on to say that there are wonderful people there who will hopefully go on to do great things. He laments how this great company turned downhill, how he hoped something would turn things around.

Speculations Surrounding Rooster Teeth's Demise

The actual shutdown of Rooster Teeth sent shockwaves through its dedicated fanbase, including members of Bennett Creative video production team, leaving fans in mourning. Largely fans seem to have seen it coming, calling the recent Rooster Teeth a shell of its former self and several factors are fueling the rumors and sparking discussions about the company's closure.

Financial Struggles: One of the primary speculations revolves around Rooster Teeth's financial struggles. The company's decision to implement layoffs in 2019 hinted at internal challenges, and the competitive nature of the online entertainment industry may have strained its financial resources. The reliance on advertising revenue and subscription models could have faced setbacks due to changing consumer habits and increased competition.

Changing Leadership Dynamics: The departure of key founders and long-time contributors may have led to a shift in the company's leadership dynamics. Changes in leadership can impact a company's vision, values, and creative direction, potentially affecting the quality and appeal of its content. Fans were left wondering if Rooster Teeth's core identity had been compromised or if new leadership struggled to fill the void left by the departing pioneers.

Evolving Industry Landscape: The entertainment industry is constantly evolving, with new trends and technologies shaping audience preferences. The rise of streaming giants like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ has reshaped how consumers access and consume content. Rooster Teeth's traditional model of producing content may be struggling to compete with the vast resources and original programming offered by these industry giants.

Pandemic-Related Challenges: The global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted production schedules and workflows across industries, including entertainment. Rooster Teeth's reliance on in-person collaborations and live events may have been adversely affected, leading to delays and challenges in content creation. The pandemic-induced economic downturn may have further strained the company's financial stability.

Rooster Teeth Will Be Missed

The shut down of Rooster Teeth has left fans and industry observers speculating about the reasons behind its shutdown, but also feeling overwhelmingly nostalgic. On Twitter the support and memories for Rooster Teeth flow. This blog post by Couch Soup captures a fan’s reaction to the company closing perfectly. While the company has weathered challenges and controversies in the past, the current landscape poses unique threats that the company just couldn’t overcome. 

Whether financial struggles, changing leadership dynamics, industry evolution, toxic work environment accusations, or pandemic-related challenges are the primary factors, the impact on Rooster Teeth's legacy remains to be seen. Rooster Teeth's impact on online content creation and the formation of passionate online communities will undoubtedly leave a lasting legacy.

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