Taking inspiration from successful 360-degree, app-first brands like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and Talking Tom, New York-based kids media company MarcoPolo Learning is set to launch its first-ever short-form series, The Polos, igniting a five-year plan for digital growth.
Since launching in 2012, the company’s four experiential, sandbox-style preschool game apps—Ocean, Weather, Arctic and Recall—have all together scored five million downloads (50% in Asia, 25% in North America and 25% for the rest of the world).
“With millions of game plays each month, our user base is very engaged and we see a high level of repeat players. The plan now is to aggressively grow the user base over the next five years with three new titles per year, and our upcoming series, The Polos, will also benefit the games business,” says MarcoPolo Learning co-founder and chief product officer Justin Hsu.
Developed by the company’s new video production division, The Polos features a quirky group of MarcoPolo app characters that emerge from the digital world to experience real-life versions of the things they’ve learned about in the apps.
Together, characters embark on epic journeys to the farthest reaches of the planet in a series that blends 3D animation with HD live-action footage.
Sam Morrison (Octonauts, Peppa Pig, Hey Duggee) is the show’s head writer, with Mary Tai (P. King Duckling, SuperWings) heading up production and Little Leviathan Productions (Doc McStuffins) handling music.
Working with UK-based animation studio Key Frame Studios, MarcoPolo expects to deliver the first 16 episodes of the 200 x five-minute series in April.
As for early distribution partners, leading Russian SVOD service Ivi.ru and indie game developer Zeptolab (Cut the Rope, Om Nom Stories) have both signed on.
The deals will see MarcoPolo leverage Ivi.ru’s 25 million unique monthly users and tap into Zeptolab’s audience that’s responsible for 750 million downloads of Cut the Rope.
“Zeptolab is a global deal. We’ll put our content on their platforms, whether it’s their games platform or the new Om Nom Toons platform,” Hsu says.
He notes that deals with other global digital streaming partners, including London-based online producer and leading YouTube channel manager Little Dot Studios, are also in the works.
“Eventually, people go to YouTube looking for more content—and we will do the same. All of our titles will be outfitted with video player capabilities,” he says.
Taking its video and digital merchandise strategy further, MarcoPolo also plans to enter the edtech SVOD fray and launch a STEAM curriculum-based, online content service for parents, teachers and preschoolers entitled MarcoPolo Early Learning Academy.
“It’s a comprehensive virtual preschool platform that will host 1,000 lessons and more than 5,000 games,” says Hsu, adding that the all-proprietary platform will be subscription-based.
As MarcoPolo’s expansion strategy comes together, Hsu says the company has the added advantage of working with a team of advisors that includes former FremantleMedia Kids & Family president Sander Schwartz (now with Grom Social), Little Airplane Productions founder and president Josh Selig, Backyardigans creator Janice Burgess and new recruit Paul Nunn, CCO of SuperAwesome and former MD of Talking Tom creator Outfit7.
Hsu says the biggest challenge has been amassing the best creative partners in the world.
“We want to tap into the best minds in kids media. We have an unbelievable tech team, and now we’ve been bringing in new creatives. It’s time-consuming, but we’ve doubled our staff from a year ago and we plan to add another 10 heads in the next year,” he says.
The company is also in the process of securing a Series A round of funding after raising US$4 million in seed funding. Its current backers include Hong Kong-based Horizons Ventures, UK-based Seedcamp, Mexican VC Capital Invent and angel investor Chris Williams, Maker Studios’ former chief audience officer.