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Maker readies for playtime with Disney IP

Which Maker partners will have access to iconic Disney characters and how will it all work? Maker Studios' chief development officer Chris M. Williams shares details with Kidscreen sister publiscation StreamDaily.
June 5, 2014

When Maker Studios’ chief development officer Chris M. Williams refers to Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO Robert Iger as “Bob,” he’s not being overly-familiar.

In 2008, a venture-capital-backed digital studio Williams founded two years earlier was acquired by Disney and re-launched as Take180. Over the next two years, he developed and launched 10 online series for teens on Take180′s network of YouTube channels that generated more than 125 million video views and more than 750,000 subscribers worldwide.

So it was like old home week for Williams when Disney purchased Maker Studios last May in a deal worth more than US$500 million, bolstering the champagne wishes and caviar dreams of MCN shareholders throughout the industry.

Kidscreen sister publiscation StreamDaily caught up with Williams following his appearance at the “Jump Into Bed With An MCN” panel on Tuesday at Stream Market at Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel to ask a few questions about how Maker creators will be making use of Disney’s vast vault of intellectual property, which includes Star Wars, Marvel Studios and Pixar properties, as well as Mickey Mouse and all his friends.

Q: How is the Disney IP ownership going to work? You’re not going to allow YouTubers do weird stuff to Mickey Mouse, are you?

Think of it more like a controlled process, but whereby assets and IP will be made available to select creators for certain types of videos.

Q: Like Star Wars tributes that are timed with the release of the next film?

Star Wars is definitely one that we consider very important to the next year in terms of how we introduce Disney IP to Maker creators and vice versa. But we’re exploring all the different IP within Disney and what makes the most sense. There are two kinds of forms. There’s leveraging an exclusive asset that can be turned into something. It could be a piece of video that only Maker creators have access to, and then they can do something with that video or its special-effects assets. Then there’s original IP, which will be a more highly-curated and controlled process.

Q: Disney’s not just going to say, ‘Take this classic character and have your way with it.’

But they understand it’s a new form. Like what about leveraging Minecraft or Disney Infinity to create a new Marvel IP? Think of it that way. It’s about reaching this audience in a way that they’re going to respond to it, as opposed to saying, “Oh, it’s just short versions of Star Wars or Marvel (stories).” It’s not that. It’s a whole new way of working on that. And these creators are the best at it.

I also think they understand what fair use is and they’ve got a team of lawyers that are very on top of that, but I think you don’t buy Maker unless you’re planning to leverage the Disney IP with the Maker creators.

Q: When you talk about traditional media companies investing in new media companies, attracted by the sizzle, one of the first things that comes to mind is Fox/News Corporation’s purchase of MySpace. Were people involved in the Maker sale saying, “We don’t want to MySpace this.”

Of course. (Laughs). I think that had a lot to do with the shift in strategy that came along after MySpace was acquired by Fox. Fox basically said, “Let’s turn MySpace into an advertising billboard.” You won’t see that happening here.

Q: They’re consciously avoiding Fox’s mistakes and being respectful of what Maker created?

Yes. I think it’s about creating as much operational independence as possible, which we have, by rolling directly into corporate and not being associated with a specific business unit. This was not a short abbreviated process. It was a year-and-a-half process that did not even start with conversations about acquisition. So they’ve had plenty of time to understand our business and not mess with anything we’re doing right.

Q: Are you guys planning to do more scripted shows?

We have Oh, You Pretty Things, and we just launched Next Time On Lonny. That’s our partnership with Red Hour Films that Ben Stiller produced with a mix of endemic digital channels that we have, like Epic Lloyd and KasemG, along with Patton Oswalt and Adam Scott and others from traditional world.

Q: Stiller popped up on Twitter today after a month-long absence to talk about it.

Good. He should be promoting it.

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