A founder who sold his last startup for ~$50 million is using book and movie deals to boost his new YouTube-centric media company


  • We live in a media era dominated by big franchises from companies like Disney.
  • But Brat cofounder Rob Fishman thinks that digital media startups don’t do enough building of their own franchises early on.
  • Brat already has a movie and book deal for one of its shows, “Chicken Girls,” and is looking to do more.

There’s no doubt we live in the age of behemoth entertainment franchises – beloved properties from Marvel to Game of Thrones that have the power to cut through our fractured media landscape and bring people together.

Disney has built its broad strategy around this concept, especially in the last decade, and seen its stock go up and up.

But franchises aren’t just for the giants, Brat cofounder Rob Fishman told Business Insider in a recent interview, and he’s using movies, books, merchandise, and more to help grow his digital media startup.

“Not enough people are interested in franchise-building on [digital media] platforms,” Fishman said.

Fishman and cofounder Darren Lachtman launched Brat last summer with the goal of making teen-focused scripted shows that paired high-quality production with digital talent. Fishman, who sold his last company to Twitter for around $US50 million, has raised $US12 million in total to fund the venture.

Brat got its first hit with “Chicken Girls,” featuring YouTube stars Annie LeBlanc and Hayden Summerall, about a group of friends who have been “dancing together forever” and are now trying to navigate life, love, and high school. The show’s debut episode sits at over 10 million YouTube views, and the second season has racked up between 2 million and 4.5 million views per episode so far.

In the digital media landscape, where a million things are begging for your attention, a piece of hit IP like “Chicken Girls” is especially important for a startup like Brat. In fact, Fishman wants to use “Chicken Girls” (and other shows in the future) as the basis for a franchise, and he’s already started. “Chicken Girls” has a movie deal with Lionsgate, a book deal with Skyhorse, and Fishman said he’s exploring merchandising and other avenues as well.

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Getting in front of people

The basic idea behind making “Chicken Girls” into a franchise is not fundamentally different from making a property like “Star Wars” (or “Hannah Montana”) into one. Fishman wants to extend his best pieces of IP so they both serve his existing fans and find him new ones.

But for Fishman, one difference is that the focus is on audience growth more than on the dollars Brat can make short term.

“Most important for us is getting in front of more people in our demographic,” Fishman said of the movie and book deals. “That is obviously lucrative for us, but it’s an opportunity to get in front of people who are already our fans or could be.”

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So how did these deals come about?

Erik Feig, the co-president of Lionsgate’s motion pictures division, first invested as an individual in Brat, but he got interested in “Chicken Girls” specifically when he was talking to his 13-year-old daughter, he told Business Insider.

She hadn’t heard of Brat, but when he asked her about Annie LeBlanc (the star of “Chicken Girls”), she responded, “Oh my God, of course I know her!” Feig said his daughter was “immediately hooked.”

Feig recused himself from the decision to make a “Chicken Girls” movie at Lionsgate because of his personal investment, but his colleagues were on board. Then the question was what the film would be.

“We referenced movies like ‘Grease,’ ‘Dirty Dancing,’ John Hughes,” Feig said. “I’d done the whole ‘Step Up’ series.” Feig and Fishman don’t want it to feel like just a supersized episode when it comes out later this spring.

That theme of moving beyond what was covered in the show was also present in the book deal, Skyhorse’s editorial director Mark Gompertz told Business Insider. “Through the years there have always been tie-ins,” he explained. “But I am not a big fan of novelizations. I want a real book.”

Skyhorse and Brat came up with the idea of an origin story for the friend group.

“I do love this idea,” Gompertz said of that instant nostalgia, even in high school. “When you were high school you are pining for when you were 10. Wouldn’t it be fun to see how they first met?”

Skyhorse worked with Brat on the plot points and had someone in-house do the drafting on the novel, which will come out this summer.

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Get partners who can help

In both the movie and book contexts, outside companies were able to help Brat shepherd projects it didn’t have the resources to complete on its own.

“This means a company like Skyhorse or Lionsgate will be doing the hard work of getting [“Chicken Girls”] into bookstores or movie theatres,” Fishman said. “That’s the beauty of the franchise.”

And Fishman is already looking ahead to the next franchise.

In April, Brat launched “Total Eclipse,” a series with former “Dance Mums” star Kenzie Ziegler. Right after it launched, Fishman said this would be Brat’s “next big franchise.” The first episode has already cracked 2.3 million views.

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