Stan Lee Universe Licenses Stan Lee Name and Likeness to Marvel Studios

Stan Lee Universe, Genius Brands International’s Genius Brands controlled venture with POW! Entertainment, has signed a 20-year deal to license the name and likeness of Stan Lee to Marvel Studios for future feature films and television productions, as well as use in Disney theme parks and experiences worldwide.

“We are proud to be the stewards of the incredibly valuable rights to Stan Lee’s name, likeness, merchandise and intellectual property brand,” Andy Heyward, chairman and CEO of Genius Brands, said in a statement. “And, there is no better place than Marvel and Disney where Stan should be for his movies and theme park experiences. As we enter the centennial year of Stan’s birthday, Dec. 28, 2022, we are thrilled to see his memory and legacy will continue to delight fans through this new long-term agreement with Marvel.”

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Under the deal, Marvel Studios has acquired rights to use Stan Lee’s name, voice, likeness and signature in movies and television projects, as well as use images, existing footage and existing audio recordings featuring Lee. Exclusive rights to use Stan Lee’s name, voice, likeness and signature in theme parks, water parks, cruise lines and in-park merchandise were included for Disney Parks, experiences and products as part of the deal.

“As Stan’s longtime business partner and friend, I’m looking forward to commemorating his work in this new way,” Gill Champion, president of POW! Entertainment, said in a statement. “Building a connection with his fans is important to us and it’s a privilege to get to do that on his behalf.”

As Marvel’s editor-in-chief, Stan Lee helped build a universe of interlocking continuity, with super heroes from Spider-Man to the Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, the X-Men and more. Lee went on to become Marvel’s editorial director and publisher in 1972 and was eventually named chairman emeritus.

His well-known cameos in Marvel films began in the 1989 telefilm The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. After the release of X-Men in 2000, he appeared in nearly every Marvel film and television project until his passing in 2018.

Genius Brands International Ups Kerry Phelan to Chief Brand Officer

Genius Brands International Jan. 26 announced the promotion of Kerry Phelan to the newly created position of chief brand officer. Phelan joined Genius Brands in July 2021 as EVP and GM of global franchise management after serving for 30 years in consumer products at Lucasfilm, DreamWorks Animation and Pixar.

In her new role, Phelan will be tasked with building Genius’ ecosystem with multiple consumer touchpoints, while driving incremental revenue. She will be responsible for overall global brand strategy, consumer products, brand partnerships and collaborations, brand experiences, retail development and more for Genius’ roster of kid’s properties, including “Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,” “Shaq’s Garage,” “Stan Lee Universe” and “Rainbow Rangers,” among others in development.

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“It’s a tremendous privilege for us to have an executive of Kerry’s caliber, with her successful track record of launching some of the most successful brands in entertainment history, from “Star Wars” to “Cars,” leading the charge as we continue to launch new IP into the market and rollout existing brands on a global scale,” Andy Heyward, CEO of Genius Brands, said in a statement.

The promotion follows Genius Brands’ acquisitions of Canada’s WOW! Unlimited Media, Ameba TV, major investment in Germany’s Your Family Entertainment (YFE), as well as the worldwide rollout of Kartoon Channel! and Kartoon Channel! Kidaverse.

Genius Brands Animated Series ‘Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten’ to Stream in China

Genius Brands International has announced the launch of season one of its flagship animated children’s series, “Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,”  on Alibaba Group’s video streaming platform Youku starting March 2022.

Youku is one of the top three streaming platforms in the mainland China territory, according to Genius. 

Additionally, the  series will be available via the Tudou and Kumiao apps.

“Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,” executive produced by and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, focuses on the adventures of six unique kids who are learning to master their super skills, along with their ABCs, with the help of their teacher Arnold Armstrong (aka the superhero Captain Fantastic).

“I have always loved bringing my latest projects to my Chinese fans, because they’re some of the most passionate fans in the world, so I can’t wait for them to see ‘Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,'” Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

“Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten” premiered on April 23, 2021, on Genius Brands’ Kartoon Channel! in the United States and Canada and has since garnered more than 75 million views, according to Genius. The company will continue to launch the series in key territories around the world in 2022.

“Alibaba’s Youku is one of the most far-reaching media platforms for kids in the world, and we are excited to make ‘Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten’ available to millions of kids across China,” Andy Heyward, chairman and CEO of Genius Brands, said in a statement. “This unique action-packed series delivers all the elements that resonate with kids today, along with positive messaging and Arnold’s star power.”

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“Genius Brands has done a tremendous job of creating a truly unique series that kids and their families can enjoy together,” Aaron Liao, GM of Youku Kids, said in a statement. “With Arnold Schwarzenegger driving ‘Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten’ and the creative storylines and compelling characters, we have no doubt that we will be able to create an impressive fan base in China, building on the success of the series in the U.S. and Canada.”

The series, voice-directed by John Landis and featuring head writer Steven Banks (“SpongeBob SquarePants”), is produced by Genius Brands and Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment in association with Schwarzenegger’s Oak Productions. Gill Champion, CEO of Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment; Heyward; Schwarzenegger; and Paul Wachter of Main Street Advisors serve as executive producers.

Genius Hires Former Disney Exec Todd Steinman

Genius Brands International has appointed Todd Steinman to the Kartoon Channel! executive team as chief revenue and marketing officer of Kartoon Channel! Kidaverse.

Todd Steinman

Steinman most recently served as VP in the Direct to Consumer and International division at The Walt Disney Company, which included Disney+ during its launch. He helped create solutions to leverage the Walt Disney Company’s  portfolio of linear and digital brands, including Disney, Hulu, ESPN, ABC, Freeform, FX and Nat Geo, while setting strategy for ad sales and revenue teams. Prior to his role at The Walt Disney Company, Steinman co-founded the digital media agency M80, and then led the NBC Universal media team for WPP after they acquired M80. He negotiated multi-million-dollar annual media deals with Google/YouTube, Amazon, Hulu, Disney, Twitter, Snapchat, Spotify and others, while managing an annual budget north of $1 billion. 

Steinman will report to Jon Ollwerther, president of Kartoon Channel! and KC! Kidaverse.

“Todd has a history of driving growth for the most important names in entertainment,” Ollwerther said in a statement. “With the announcement of the KC! Kidaverse, and the acquisition of Ameba TV, Kartoon Channel! has reached a new inflection point, and I could not be more thrilled to welcome an executive of Todd’s caliber to help take our business to the next level.”

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“There is an electric excitement about the Kartoon Channel! and KC! Kidaverse in the kid’s and family market,” Steinman said in a statement. “It’s a breakthrough concept, and I’m looking forward to bringing all my expertise to help drive it forward.”

Chizicks Exit Genius Brands, ChizComm Companies

ChizComm Ltd. and ChizComm Beacon Media founders Harold and Jennifer Chizick have left Genius Brands, ChizComm and ChizComm Beacon Media.

“We are extremely disappointed to be leaving Genius Brands and ChizComm after less than a year of being with Genius Brands,” they said in a statement. “However, our vision on how to best grow the company does not align well with Genius Brands.

“Last week, Genius Brands imposed organizational changes that reduced our role in the company and was a breach of our agreement with Genius Brands. Efforts to resolve this matter in an amicable fashion have been unsuccessful. We believe that we have been terminated on a without cause basis and now have no choice but to depart the company and explore options for how to recoup the considerable sums remaining due to us.

“ChizComm staff is at the heart of everything we do. We want to thank this phenomenal team — past and present — that have contributed to building a great organization that prioritizes integrity, drive and passion. And to the ChizComm client base, it has been an honor working in partnership to unlock opportunities and drive growth. Stay tuned for what we do next.”

Genius Brands International issued a statement in response: “Harold Chizick and Jennifer Chizick, employees of the company’s ChizComm subsidiary, have been terminated for cause. The company believes this decision to be in the best interest of its shareholders and customers. Business will continue as usual under current management, with Donna MacNeil as President of ChizComm and Kathleen Campisano as Global Chief Marketing Officer and General Manager of ChizComm Beacon Media subsidiaries. The company is fully invested in the success of these subsidiaries and believes it will be more fully realized under Ms. MacNeil’s and Ms. Campisano’s leadership.”

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Harold and Jennifer Chizick in 2013 founded ChizComm Ltd., a marketing communications and media buying agency in the lifestyle, family, entertainment, toy and gaming spaces.

In February 2021, ChizComm Ltd. and ChizComm Beacon Media were acquired by Genius Brands. Harold Chizick served as CEO of both companies and Jennifer Chizick as COO of ChizComm Ltd. Additionally, Harold Chizick was named president of marketing, content sales and consumer products for Genius Brands.

In the past year working with Genius Brands, Harold Chizick secured a master toy partner for “Rainbow Rangers,” led the partnership to have Kartoon Channel! stream on Pluto TV, and led the marketing to deliver over 70 million views on “Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,” according to a statement from the Chizicks.

Genius Brands Appoints Zrinka Dekic CFO

Genius Brands International has appointed Zrinka Dekic CFO and head of strategy and mergers and acquisitions. 

Previous CFO Bob Denton will assume the new role of EVP of finance and accounting at Genius Brands.

“Bob Denton has made tremendous contributions to the company as CFO over the past years, as we transformed Genius Brands from an emerging children’s entertainment company to a diversified global organization with a solid balance sheet, positioned for long term growth,” Heyward said in a statement. “We look forward to his continued contributions as executive vice president of finance and accounting, as we accelerate our focus on expansion.”

Dekic brings nearly 20 years of entertainment industry and financial markets experience, including corporate strategy, investment banking, investment management and corporate finance at The Walt Disney Company, and before that, Goldman Sachs. At The Walt Disney Company, she held posts in corporate strategy, strategic planning and business development. Prior to joining Disney, Dekic served as a VP in the investment management division at Goldman Sachs in New York. Most recently, she served as VP of Houlihan Lokey’s Investment Banking Technology, Media & Telecom (TMT) Group, where she was responsible for business development and execution across the sector, including media and entertainment, digital media, streaming technologies, animation and video games. Dekic holds a B.A. from Amherst College and an MBA in Finance from The Wharton School.

“We are excited to welcome Zrinka as chief financial officer of Genius Brands at this major inflection point in the Company’s development, given the rapid revenue growth, expanded distribution, and a powerful slate of new content,” Andy Heyward, chairman and CEO of Genius Brands, said in a statement. “With the recently announced acquisition of WOW! Unlimited Media in Canada and our strategic investment in Your Family Entertainment traded on the Frankfurt Exchange (RFE.F), providing us control over one of Europe’s largest animation catalogs and now a global channel footprint, the addition of Zrinka, with her impressive professional pedigree, including The Walt Disney Company and Goldman Sachs, will empower us to maximize value for shareholders. In particular, Zrinka brings a proven track record in M&A, which will continue to be an important component of our strategy as we execute on our vision of becoming one of the world’s leading global children’s entertainment companies. In support of this goal, she brings extensive relationships across Wall Street and the entertainment industry, spanning animation, media and entertainment, sports, and consumer product companies across North America and globally.”

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“I am delighted and honored to join Genius Brands International at this critical juncture of the disruptive technological changes in the industry as well as the explosive global demand for children’s content,” Dekic said in a statement. “With Genius’s recently announced acquisition of a prolific animation producer WOW! Unlimited Media in Canada and its investment in Your Family Entertainment in Europe, as well as the fact that Genius Brands, through Kartoon Channel! Worldwide, controls both content and distribution, it is poised for global expansion and growth. I am thrilled to be joining the company at such an exciting time and to be part of the leadership team that will take Genius Brands to the next level.”

Genius Brands Acquiring WOW! Unlimited Media

Genius Brands International is acquiring WOW! Unlimited Media for approximately $53 million in cash and stock, according to the companies.

WOW! Unlimited Media, based in Toronto, Vancouver, New York and Los Angeles, is an animation production company producing for the top broadcasters and IP holders including Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sony, Hulu, Dreamworks, Moonbug, Peacock and Mattel. The acquisition includes two studios — Frederator Studios (which produced “Adventure Time,” “FairlyOdd Parents,” “Powerpuff Girls,” “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Castlevania”) and Mainframe Studios (“Madagascar: A Little Wild,” “Barbie Dreamhouse”).

WOW! CEO Michael Hirsh will join the board of directors of Genius Brands and continue his responsibilities for Mainframe, Frederator Studios, networks and platforms.

Andy Heyward

“The acquisition of WOW! substantially accelerates the financial growth of Genius Brands, delivering on our promise to shareholders to execute meaningful and accretive acquisitions, as we seek to rapidly consolidate the marketplace and become the foremost producer, broadcaster, and consumer product licensor of high-quality children’s entertainment in the world,” Andy Heyward, chairman and CEO of Genius Brands, said in a statement. “I have known and worked with WOW! Chairman and CEO Michael Hirsh throughout my career, and there is nobody more talented, accomplished or well regarded. His track record of many hits includes the first ‘Star Wars’ animated programs, ‘Magic School Bus,’ ‘Care Bears, Babar,’ ‘Johnny Test,’ and ‘Beetlejuice,’ among others.

“In addition to the animation productions of WOW! today and the exciting new brand brought to the table for Genius Brands, WOW! has a massive social media footprint across YouTube, TikTok, Giphy, etc., expanding the Genius Brands kids’ audience demo into the lucrative teens and young adult marketplaces. The company has over 1 billion views per month on its Frederator YouTube Network, with over 2,500 advertiser supported channels, making it the number one talent driven animation YouTube Network.”

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WOW!’s Canadian production facilities enable a number of profitable synergies for the company via access to various federal and provincial tax credits, which will allow Genius Brands to transfer its current animation production at great savings from China, according to Genius Brands.

“In addition to WOW!’s 3rd party service production, we will now place many of the exciting upcoming WOW! owned content on Kartoon Channel! and activate it through our consumer products and global distribution sales network, further advancing revenues and earnings,” Heyward said in a statement.

“I’m excited to work with Andy and the Genius Brands team,” Hirsh said in a statement. “This is a powerful partnership that brings immediate and significant value for shareholders. We bring production capacity, new IP, and a robust and profitable YouTube Network with over a billion views per month. Genius Brands, with Kartoon Channel!, has a fully distributed footprint where our content can thrive and also help Kartoon Channel! itself expand. Genius Brands’ world class consumer product licensing team led by Kerry Phelan, will enable us to monetize all of these great characters and brands. This transaction represents the culmination of our extensive strategic review process. We feel that this is a very attractive opportunity for our shareholders with significant potential upside in the months and years ahead.”

The transfer of animation production to Canada is expected to benefit Genius Brands through Canadian Content incentives as well as Production Service Tax Credits, according to a press release.

Kartoon Channel! Gets New Spanish-Language Content

Genius Brands International has announced a new Spanish-language content service for children — ¡KC! En Español — on its streaming platform Kartoon Channel!

Kartoon Channel! also announced Oct. 5 that it is now available on Pluto TV.

With ¡KC! En Español, Kartoon Channel! expands its current  platform to serve the Latino children’s community in North America. The new Spanish-language children’s program service will reside on the main Kartoon Channel! platform and function as a sub-brand of Kartoon Channel!, similar to Kartoon Classroom!, which premiered in September 2020. The offering will launch with Genius Brands’ “Rainbow Rangers,” in addition to “Thomas Edison’s Secret Lab,” “Mi Perro Chocolo,” YouTube’s “Spanish Tree TV” and “Stan Lee’s Mighty Seven.”

“Not only is this the right entertainment and cultural move for Kartoon Channel!, but it also makes good business sense too,” Jon Ollwerther, president of Kartoon Channel!, said in statement. “Today, 26% of kids in the U.S. under the age of five are of Latinx heritage, a number that is only expected to grow. Further, 83% of Latinx audiences are streamers, versus 73% of non-Latinx audiences. Finally, digital ad-spend focused on the Latinx audience in the United States has more than doubled from 2015 to 2020 and the market today is estimated at over $1.5 billion. We look forward to this becoming an important and growing contributor to the business of Kartoon Channel!”

“Following the success of our educational sub-brand Kartoon Classroom!, ¡KC! En Español was the obvious next step for us,” Michael Riley, Genius Brands International’s chief diversity officer, said in a statement. “We’re proud to announce this new offering during Hispanic Heritage Month and to better serve the Latinx community, now in English and en Español.”

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Genius Brands International’s digital network Kartoon Channel! is a family entertainment destination. Kartoon Channel! delivers  content across multiple platforms, including Comcast, Cox, Dish, Sling TV, Amazon Prime, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Android TV, Android Mobile, Google Play, Xumo, Roku, Tubi, Samsung Smart TVs and LGTVs. Kartoon Channel! can also be streamed on TVs and mobiles device by downloading the app, or on desktops by visiting www.kartoonchannel.com.

Genius Brands International’s ‘Kartoon Channel!’ Launches on Pluto TV

Genius Brands International Oct. 5 announced a deal with ViacomCBS’s ad-supported platform Pluto TV to stream a branded Kartoon Channel! beginning today, significantly expanding the curated free family-friendly channel’s content.

Pluto TV users will now have access to Kartoon’s program line-up, including Genius Brands’ slate of original series — “Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; the fast-paced trivia original game show series for kids, “KC! Pop Quiz” (starting Oct. 12), hosted by Nickelodeon’s Casey Simpson; and the upcoming “Shaq’s Garage,” starring Shaquille O’Neal and Rob Gronkowski — as well as classics such as “Baby Genius” and “Pac-Man,” among others.

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Harold Chizick, president of content sales, marketing and consumer products at Genius Brands, said the company has a longstanding relationship with ViacomCBS, starting with the launch of “Rainbow Rangers” on Nick Jr. in 2018.

“This deal with Pluto TV provides us with an opportunity to significantly expand the brand footprint to a broad audience across the U.S., as well as to build our advertiser base,” Chizick said in a statement.

Amy Kuessner, SVP of content strategy and global partnerships at ViacomCBS Streaming, said Kartoon’s mission of providing “content with a purpose” to kids of all ages and their families is a perfect complement to ViacomCBS’s range of programming.

“We are thrilled to bring Kartoon Channel! to the Pluto TV audience,” she said.

ViacomCBS claims Pluto’s monthly average viewership base reaches 52 million users.

Genius Brands Posts 318% Increase in Q2 Revenue

Genius Brands International, the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based licensor of children’s programming, Aug. 16 reported second-quarter (ended June 30) revenue of $2.3 million, up 318% from revenue of approximately $561,000 for the same period last year. Revenue for the first six months of the fiscal period were about $3.4 million, compared with $895,000 for the same period last year.

Genius said its branded Kartoon Channel, self-described as “Netflix for kids, but free,” saw unique viewership increase 932% to 21 million in the quarter, according to data sourced from Apple iOS, Apple TV, Android TV, Android Mobile, Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Prime Video, Roku, YouTube, Samsung Smart TV and LG Smart TV, among others.

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Among top licensed shows, “Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, saw total viewership top 50 million in 15 weeks since its debut. “Rainbow Rangers” generated strong penetration worldwide, including Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max, and Nickelodeon/Nick LatAm. The series begins streaming on Paramount+ on Aug 18.

On Sept. 14, Genius will launch it second original series, “KC! Pop Quiz,” hosted by teen influencer Casey Simpson, with more than 12 million social media followers.

The company also signed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Rob Gronkowski as co-executive producer and voice artist, playing the voice of the ‘Gronkmobile’ on “Shaq’s Garage,” airing on the Kartoon Channel in Q2 2022.

“We are confident that we are on that path toward channel success and value creation,” CEO Andy Heyward wrote in the shareholder letter.