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October 04, 2017

Craft Services

NBCU gets schooled in the business of crafting and adds a plum to its portfolio.

Paula Hendrickson
  • Craftsy’s quilting pro Christa Watson

  • Joshua John Russell of Man About Cake


Dave Howe was up for the challenge when Bonnie Hammer, chairman of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, tasked him with identifying new digital direct-to-consumer opportunities for NBCUniversal’s cable portfolio.

“Within the space of a year I probably met with 100 companies at various stages of evolution,” says Howe, president of strategy and commercial growth at NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment. “I moved across the entire gamut. Lifestyle, passions, food, fashion, fitness, beauty, travel, videogames, cars, DR, VR, DIY — you name it.”

When a colleague told him about Craftsy, an online haven for crafters of all types and skill sets, he was skeptical, asking, “How’s that relevant to the cable portfolio or to NBCUniversal as an entertainment company?”

Craftsy is a mobile destination with massive amounts of video content, a robust e-commerce component and more than 12 million registered users in the burgeoning craft sector.

“It’s an amazing business,” Howe says. “I had no idea until we took the meeting, but there are over 60 million crafters just in the U.S. It’s a $30 billion business annually. It’s huge, and it’s getting younger.”

Denver-based Craftsy launched in 2011, and by 2012 it was getting overtures from media, retail and publishing companies. None of those offers felt right to Craftsy’s founders, including CEO John Levisay, but he felt differently about NBCU.

“There were a lot of reasons the NBCUniversal merger made sense to us,” he explains. “It starts with the people, from Steve Burke [CEO, NBCUniversal] to Bonnie Hammer to Dave Howe. They’re forward-thinking, strategic folks. I like the way they’re thinking about the evolution of the media landscape from a content and delivery perspective.”

NBCU executives further impressed Levisay by using Craftsy’s platform, watching content and even placing orders to get a feel for the business.

Ensuring Craftsy’s users, employees and 800 instructors would be protected in the merger was paramount to Craftsy executives.

“We built this company from four of us in my basement to over 200 employees,” Levisay says. “We’ve got a phenomenal team of creatives, as well as engineers and technical folks to build the delivery infrastructure. Last week we had classes streamed from 180 countries. We have a great company culture, and one of the things we really liked was that the folks at NBCUniversal liked that.”

Craftsy had the most sophisticated business model of all the companies he met with, Howe says. “They’re creating video content that takes you deeper. They’re selling products and services that help people enjoy their passions a little more and that give them the opportunity to build their  skills.”

Now that NBCUniversal owns 95 percent of Craftsy, the focus is on how to best use its talent and adapt its expertise in other parts of the company.

For Levisay, the integration is going well. “I’m continually impressed by  the thoughtfulness, work ethic and commitment to success from the NBCU side. We’re really excited and looking forward to the future.”

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2017

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