Mark OBrien chose the right name for his independent syndication company, Mighty Oak Entertainment.
He's growing the company from an acorn of an idea—“offering content that is evergreen and that will have value some 10, 15 or 20 years from now,” says OBrien—into an independent syndicator with strong roots.
Mighty Oak's Whacked Out Sports— a fast-paced half-hour clip show that mainly depicts athletes having spectacular and telegenic accidents—has just been renewed in nearly 95% of the country for weekend runs.
In its second season, Whacked Out Sports is proving to be the little show that could. Season-to-date among households, the show is averaging a 1.4 live-plus-same-day rating, according to Nielsen Media Research, up 17% from last year.
The story is much the same in the demographics, with Whacked Out Sports up 13% over last year among men 25-54 and men 18-49, and up 14% among men 18-34. The show has done even better among female demos, jumping 33% among women 25-54 and 17% among the younger female demographics over last year.
“We run so many sports on Fox—like NASCAR, Major League Baseball and the NFL—and we can take a second and third run of Whacked Out Sports and schedule it out of those events,” says Kevin Hale, VP and general manager of Fox-owned KTTV Los Angeles, where the show airs Sundays at midnight. “It's especially strong in holding the male audience that those events deliver.”
The idea behind Whacked Out Sports isn't new. An unseen 30-something “announcer guy” guides viewers through 22 minutes of clips, in which people crash and burn. A skateboarder rolling down a highway at high speed misses his footing and goes flying. An extreme snowmobiler tries to complete a flip and ends up head first in a snowbank. Through the years, shows like America's Funniest Home Videos, Real TV and Maximum Exposure have well documented people's often painful pratfalls.
Still, it's a format that works. Not only is Whacked Out Sports growing in the U.S., it's popular internationally, and OBrien and his French distribution partner Rive Gauche have sold it in Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, India and Asia. Apparently everyone loves a really sore loser.
“We knew that physicality, like cartoons, translates into all languages,” says OBrien. “As long as you have good producing, good writing and good graphics, you should have a show that will translate.”
It didn't take long for Whacked Out Sports to breed a sibling, Whacked Out Videos, that OBrien put together to sell internationally under the title Video Zonkers. In Zonkers, OBrien collects a bunch of weird videos—the kind of stuff that make viewers flock to YouTube.
The idea of an inexpensive, evergreen program appealed to MyNetwork TV President Greg Meidel, who picked up the show this year to air on Wednesdays at 8 and 8:30 p.m. Whacked Out Videos quickly became one of MyNetwork's top primetime performers. In January, the show improved MyNetwork's November 2007 rating in adults 18-49 by 67%.OBrien plans to launch Whacked Out Videos in syndication—“either broadcast, cable or both”—in September 2009.
OBrien, who spent 20 years selling shows for Warner Bros., is focused on building his Whacked Out brand, so he's farmed out the show's ad sales to Sony Pictures Entertainment, which has re-upped for another year.
“What we like about this show is it fits into our portfolio of sitcoms, court shows and serial dramas very well,” says Stuart Zimmerman, Sony's executive VP of advertiser sales. “It's the type of show that might reach a slightly different viewer.”
This season, Whacked Out Sports attracted advertisers from the insurance, pharmaceutical, quick-service restaurant, casual-dining and automotive categories. “Initially, we were positive this was going to be a total male audience, but its audience has turned out to be very balanced,” Zimmerman says.
OBrien has just trademarked Whacked Out and he's planning to expand. “We have multiple projects in development,” he says. “In five years, I hope to have 1,000 episodes in my library.”