Universal Brand Development makes mobile push

The company has unveiled a new leadership team, with five exec hires, as it expands its strategic focus on gaming to self-published titles based on its own IPs.
May 16, 2017

Universal Brand Development is expanding its strategic focus on gaming with a move to self-publish its own titles. The Comcast-owned business segment will build an organization to take a more direct role in the creative, development, marketing and distribution of multiplatform games based on its own IPs, including the popular Despicable Me and Minions franchises (pictured).

Three new executives have been appointed–SVP of production James Molinets, VP of creative Timothy FitzRandolph and SVP of technology and operations Fabian Schonholz–to drive the new business initiative. Self-publishing efforts will initially focus on mobile, with gaming apps set to launch later this year before expanding to other platforms.

While self-publishing will be a focus for Universal moving forward, the company will also continue to license its IPs in the category. The news comes one year after Disney shuttered its Infinity console gaming business and halted its self-published video game operations to focus solely on third-party licensed titles.

Previously, Molinets served as VP of games at the House of Mouse, where he was responsible for production and the general management of all Disney and Pixar mobile games. Molinets produced Alice in collaboration with American McGee and oversaw second-party development for Sony, as well as third-party development for Disney.

FitzRandolph was an early pioneer on mobile (Jelly Car) before teaming with Molinets at Disney to work on games like Where’s My Water, Inside Out: Thought Bubbles, Disney Emoji Blitz and Club Penguin Island.

Before joining Universal Brand Development, Schonholz served as COO at NinjaMetrics. In his new role as SVP of technology and operations, Schonholz will oversee Universal’s cloud-based game publishing infrastructure with a focus on leveraging data to drive value across the gaming network. Schonholz, along with Molinets, will report to Chris Heatherly, EVP of games and digital platforms. The company’s games and digital platforms business unit creates games and interactive experiences for mobile, console, PC and emerging platforms like virtual and augmented reality.

Left to right: Pete Wanat, Tim FitzRandolph, Bill Kispert, Chris Heatherly, Jim Molinets and Fabian Schonholz

Left to right: Pete Wanat, Tim FitzRandolph, Bill Kispert, Chris Heatherly, Jim Molinets and Fabian Schonholz

In addition to the new appointments, two gaming executive are taking on new roles at Universal. Bill Kispert will serve as GM of business development, reporting to Heatherly, while Pete Wanat (Chronicles of Riddick, Scarface: The World is Yours) has been named VP of production and will report to Molinets.

In August, NBCUniversal closed its US$3.8-billion acquisition of DreamWorks Animation. As part of the deal, DreamWorks Animation’s feature films, TV series, live entertainment and related consumer products businesses became part of the Universal Film Entertainment Group, which includes NBCUniversal Brand Development. Earlier this year, Michelle Hagen was tapped to serve as SVP of consumer products retail development and will develop and implement retail plans largely for the Comcast-owned company’s long-term franchises.

Earlier this month, NBCUniversal announced its preschool net Sprout would rebrand to become Universal Kids starting in September. The US network will focus on two- to 11-year-olds and will include preschool content, a lineup of DreamWorks Animation TV series, unscripted entertainment and live-action scripted originals. Sprout will live on as a preschool destination on the Universal Kids channel.

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