Maker’s McPherson: ‘We’re a Next–Generation Media Company’ #NextTV

Multi-pronged programming strategy within Disney includes its 23 verticals, sibling initiatives, outside partnerships and OTT
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Following Walt Disney Co.’s $950 million acquisition of Maker, Erin McPherson, chief content officer of Maker Studios, described the outfit as a “next-generation media company that wants to be the world’s doorstep for creators and creativity.”

Speaking Thursday at the B&C and Multichannel News' Next TV Summit San Francisco in a keynote Q&A with B&C Editor-in-Chief Melissa Grego, McPherson said that while Maker operates as an autonomous entity within Disney, the unit is already aggressively collaborating with the entertainment giant. She said she’s spending about half of a typical day working with various Disney/ABC colleagues or brands and that the Star Wars-related project hinted at during Maker’s NewFront presentation continues to make progress.

As a core of its programming strategy, Maker has identified 23 verticals in four major categories, McPherson said: gaming and sports; life and style; family; and entertainment. McPherson shared a graphic that lines up various Disney brands with those verticals, illustrating just how naturally Maker and Disney fit given many of Maker’s 55,000 creators are already making content that synchs up with various Disney brands.

McPherson underscored that Maker continues to collaborate with partners outside of Disney, however the collaboration within the company clearly also is a priority and a pillar of the company’s programming strategy.

“We see an opportunity to take premium Disney content from Pixar, ABC, ESPN etc. and create new short form content,” she said, adding that she sees potential for Maker and colleagues within the Disney/ABC TV operation to share best practices and even some development efforts.

 “We shot a whole season [for a new series of kids shorts] in a week and that really surprised my Disney/ABC colleagues,” McPherson says. “We think there is a lot of opportunity to be found in best practice of digital and TV.”

Maker indeed turns content around quickly and could even serve as a testing ground for characters, such as a Marvel character, for example; or they could test characters or personalities by having them vlog on YouTube. The feedback and data YouTubers naturally gather is another important aspect of Maker.

Naturally, the discussion of OTT is a big topic at Next TV and McPherson said it is one within Maker as well. She said the company does aspire to have presence on OTT services but declined to offer a timeline of when we might see any of the 23 Maker verticals or individual shows make an OTT or VOD debut. Different programs are suited to different platforms and McPherson says Maker endeavors to identify the best fit.

Earlier this year, Disney acquired Maker in a deal that has been reported to involve as much as $950 million with incentives. However, Maker’s management hadn’t been intending to sell the company, McPherson said. But as talks progressed about content partnerships, they realized that the two companies had so much crossover in the 23 verticals that it made sense to expand the talks to the point where Disney eventually decided to acquire the company.

As the growth potential of Maker apparently drew Disney’s interest, it likewise caught the attention of McPherson, who joined the company in late November 2013. She noted that when she joined the company late last year from Yahoo, Maker had an average 5.5 billion monthly views, and it is now up to 8.5 billion and on track to hit 10 billion.

Other highlights from the panel:

• Maker now has 550 million subscribers and 55,000 creators. About 70% of audience is international and 60% is aged 13 to 34.

• About 50% of Maker’s audience comes from mobile, with an even higher percentage internationally. “It is as much about mobile as video,” she said. 

• Maker differs significantly from traditional media, McPherson said, because they have “sourced” content creation for its targeted 23 verticals out “to audience demand,” drawing on a network of over 55,000 creators.

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