A founder who sold his last startup for ~$50 million wants to make iconic TV for teens in the YouTube era

Rob fishmanBratRob Fishman

For teens, YouTube and Netflix are already the new TV — and the race is on to see which entertainment companies will make a killing in that future.

In fall 2016, YouTube and Netflix both outstripped cable TV in daily video consumption among US teens for the first time, according to a survey by Piper Jaffray.

That is a shift that Rob Fishman is trying to capitalise on with his new entertainment startup, Brat.

Teenagers used to watch the WB all week, Fishman told Business Insider in a recent interview. “That’s all disappeared in the era of social media,” he said. “There’s no monoculture. No shows everyone watches.”

Netflix might have scored that type of hit with “13 Reasons Why.” But Netflix aside, Fishman thinks there’s an opening in the free digital realm, particularly on YouTube, to make scripted shows with good production value, starring digital talent — some of whom bring their own built-in audiences and massive social media footprints to the table.

Fishman isn’t the only one to look in this direction. Early digital video powerhouses that focused on young people, like AwesomenessTV and Fullscreen, have moved in recent years more toward original show production and owning content (versus taking a percentage as a multi-channel network).

Fishman said he won’t get anywhere near talent management. “We are studio, network, and channel,” he said. “We don’t sign or manage.”

The Brat Pack

Right now, Brat is focused on creating YouTube shows for its channel (which since the summer has grown to around 635,000 subscribers). The first shows center around a fictional high school called “Attaway High,” the location for which was an actual high school that Brat originally rented for three weeks to shoot.

“Everything has nostalgic, aspirational quality,” Fishman said. Brat shows include technology like smartphones, but aren’t hyper focused on it. The themes are meant to have a timeless quality, like the 80s “Brat Pack” movies that the company cribs its name from. The stars of those iconic films were not just the jock or cheerleaders, but those who marched to their own beat, Fishman said.

Brat’s breakout hit is “Chicken Girls,” about three girl friends who “have been dancing together forever,” which has gotten over 5 million views an episode on YouTube in its first season, and will be getting longer episodes starting on Halloween.

“All these kids live vicariously through those characters,” Motoki Maxted, who performs in another Brat show about a high school newspaper, said of “Chicken Girls.”

‘Second-class citizens’

Stars like Maxted — who has over a million YouTube subscribers and 3.6 million Facebook likes — are a key to Brat’s strategy.

“They have bigger individual audiences than an entire TV network,” Fishman said. And yet Fishman said traditional entertainment companies often treat digital media talent as “second-class citizens.”

Fishman should know. His last company, Niche, helped social-media stars make money from brands, and sold for around $US50 million to Twitter. (Fishman’s partner in Niche, Darren Lachtman, recently joined Brat.)

But that doesn’t mean all YouTube stars can make it as traditional actors. “There’s no secret algorithm,” Fishman said. You can’t just plug in numbers and get a hit.

Being a YouTube “personality is completely different than getting a script and acting,” Maxted said.

Motoki MaxtedBratMotoki Maxted

Smart money

The big question when anyone is launching a venture in the digital entertainment space is, “How the heck are you going to make money?” Teen audiences might be shifting away from TV, but that doesn’t mean the money is.

Fishman said he wants Brat to be smart about how and when it makes money — and he has a bit of runway, having raised $US2.5 million from investors.

“We are not talking about programmatic ad dollars,” Fishman said. “We need to make big brand [deals].” He could also see licensing to platforms like Netflix, or Facebook, or Snapchat, and so on. (“It’s not about being dogmatic about format,” he said.)

But that’s in the future. First he has to make Brat into something that young people love and keep returning to.

The sentiment of careful brand building is echoed by Maxted when he talks about his personal goals. “YouTube is my baby, I don’t bother too much with sponsors,” he said. “Facebook I do brand deals.” You can’t try to grab optimum monetisation at any cost.

“I think a lot of people are more focused on attention, versus longevity,” Maxted said. “They don’t care about the end goals.”

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