Rock Hill Media Ventures is bringing LA-based IP accelerator Break the Room (BTR) into the kids and family space for the first time to make it easier for broadcasters and streamers to find marginalized voices and content, and to improve visible diversity both on and off camera.
Led by Rock Hill CEO and former Nick exec Keith Dawkins (pictured right) and Break the Room CEO Sameer Gardezi (pictured left), the venture is looking for traditional kidsnets and streamers to invest in BTR’s six- to eight-week development program. During that time, emerging writers of color from around the world will be tapped to yield IPs with diverse characters and storylines.
By partnering with Rock Hill, Dawkins says BTR’s model can now be leveraged to help close the visible diversity gap in the kids business.
“It’s about investing in a process to get diverse content that platforms are not producing otherwise,” says Dawkins. “With the exception of a very few examples, there is still a lack of visible diversity in the characters on air across the kids and family landscape, behind the camera and at the executive deal-making levels.”
According to a recent study by Beano Studios’ kids insight consultancy Beano Brain, just under a quarter of kids in the US and UK feel that the people they see in TV shows and movies match who they see in real life. And a new study from National Research Group found that although 90% of the US Gen Z population think better distribution opportunities for Black creators is the key to better representation, 84% agree there is a lack of funding for content created by Black people.
Taking stats like these into consideration, and the fact that 25 million kids under the age of 11 in the US are non-white, Dawkins is confident broadcasters will pony up with Break the Room to give audiences the diverse content they are looking for.
Though he won’t reveal how much broadcasters have to pay to opt in, Dawkins says BTR is more cost-effective and faster than traditional writers rooms and development tracks run inside network buildings. “BTR’s not encumbered by the [bureaucracy] that slows things down inside a network,” he says.
The process works like this: Once a broadcaster orders a room, a research phase begins for Dawkins and Gardezi to find ideas and IPs from their diverse and growing networks of writers and strategic partners. For Rock Hill, these include: the National Basketball Players Association, which just inked a deal to bring its 450 athletes into the kids space; former NFL running back and children’s book author Rashad Jennings (The Coin Slot Chronicles); and Jamaican siblings Leneen Faith and David Campbell, whose preschool book series Peacebe and The Heartwatch is set to expand into kids and family content.
Following research, a full pitch breaking down a chosen concept’s story, characters and world is then presented to the broadcaster. If the pitch is greenlit, four to five writers with experience and talent aligned to the concept begin developing content over a five-day period. After a round of notes, a pitch bible, pitch deck, outlines, scripts and episode guides for the series are delivered to the broadcaster as source material and proof of concept. The final step is to attach a showrunner, director and talent to the series.
Break the Room’s pivot into the kids space comes as networks like ViacomCBS International Studios are now demanding producers bring diversity to their projects or they won’t get commissioned, but Dawkins questions how effective strategies like this will be. “Broadcasters could continue to partner with the same prodcos they’ve worked with for years, but if those companies inherently haven’t brought diversity to the table in the past, forcing it on them now could pose challenges,” he says.
On the flipside, if broadcasters are actually committed to authentic storytelling, Gardezi says they should want to work with companies that have diversity and inclusion in their DNA.
“Only by empowering writers of color in the beginning can you truly foster a creative space to develop authentic storytelling,” says Gardezi.
A Muslim-American writer-producer whose work includes Emmy-winning series Modern Family and BTR’s first web dramedy East of La Brea, Gardezi founded Break the Room in 2019 with Paul Feig (Ghostbusters, Spy) under the Hollywood director’s digital production shingle Powderkeg. Feig lit Powderkeg’s fuse a year earlier with former Yahoo and Disney production exec Laura Fischer to elevate underserved voices in comedy with a commitment to female and LGBTQ creators and filmmakers of color.
To date, the company’s Break the Room program has held 10 writers rooms in the US and two internationally, with several more planned for 2021 across Europe, South America, the Middle East and Asia.