You only have to look as far as the Chairman Mom thread about Surviving Disneyland to see the emotional gravitational pull that brand has on parents…and our wallets. I’ve spent 20 years as a reporter hearing about companies or franchises or ideas that threaten to “take on Disney.” None actually do.
But Netflix has an interesting new tool in its arsenal, as of today. The company has done only its third acquisition, and it’s the company that inspired Evie’s last birthday party: StoryBots.
I’ve known the creators of StoryBots, the Spiridellis brothers, for much of the 20 years they ran JibJab, which spun off StoryBots a few months ago. And my kids are such die-hard StoryBots fans that we did a tour of their studio on our recent trip to LA. So I’m hardly dispassionate about the news. But I think it’s as potentially exciting for Netflix and the explosion of high-quality, educational kids programming that parents also want to watch, as it is for my friends finally getting their exit.
I wrote about the behind the scenes of the deal and the Spiridellis brothers’ journey on Pando today. Here’s an excerpt: So what changes with this deal, other than the garage? Resources, and not just cash. Netflix has already made Story Bots a global phenomenon, taking over all of the international production, including casting of voices, production and distribution in 22 languages around the world.
A global audience had been the Spiridellis brothers’ intention from the beginning. “The fact that they have flopping heads isn’t an accident,” Spiridellis says. “We wanted them to be able to speak any language and it would feel native.” It required a company with the scale and reach of Netflix to make that idea happen.
Consider that kind of ability to scale Story Bots, but beyond just global retrofitting. Spiridellis talked about the Netflix Animation Hub within the company that has quietly amassed a trove of some of the best animation talent all over the world. It’s beyond Netflix commissioning the next StoryBots, they are building an engine to scale animated production beyond a basic idea and distribute it globally.
So instead of the Spiridellis brothers disappearing for as much as 18 months to produce a new season, they will be able to come up with ideas, story lines and rough videos of episodes and then turn them over to Netflix to do the rest.
“Right now we produce every frame of every show in our four walls of our Los Angeles office,” he says. “There’s only so much we can do on our own.”
What does Netflix get? A toe-hold in children’s educational programming which is going to be a huge thrust for the company going forward, allowing it to compete on a new level with Leviathans like Disney, and the cable world. (Remember HBO’s purchase of Sesame Street? Netflix isn’t alone here.)
Netflix has the ability to do to children’s television what it did to television writ large a decade ago: Spark a new binge-watching golden age. It’s TV that has been neglected, even by best-in-class creative companies like Disney, while they’ve pushed new boundaries in theatres, Spiridellis argues.
And as a parent who watches all this content, I agree. Soak in the timeless wonder, say, of Lady and the Tramp and then watch the direct-to-video/direct-to-Disney Channel’s Lady and the Tramp 2. It’s like Disney wasn’t even trying if it didn’t have a theatrical release. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse isn’t a bad show, but it’s hardly Disney’s finest work.
Spiridellis won’t go too into Netflix’s vision here, and like he said, he’s relishing not being the boss so he may not even know the scope of it. But when a company this large does acquisitions this infrequently, a deal is a signal of strategy.
“Outside of this deal, I’m just fascinated by Netflix, as someone who has been in this business for so long,” Spiridellis says. “I don’t know if anyone has ever spent this much money this fast, especially globally, to build this kind of content library. They are going to be making a big push with merchandising too. This is still ground zero for them. I excited to observe it and be part of it but not be the CEO anymore, quite frankly.”
You can read the rest of it unlocked on Pando here.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- Is an MBA worth it?
- How do you get a relationship with a new boss on the right track from the start?
- Thinking about moving to the East Bay – what are some factors to consider that I might be missing?