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 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.”

Genius Brands Launching ‘Kartoon Channel! Kidaverse’ SVOD Service

Genius Brands International Jan. 13 announced it would bow the subscription-based Kartoon Channel! Kidaverse on April 15, priced at $3.99 per month. The platform will be anchored by backend technology from the acquisition of Ameba TV.

The SVOD will include all the programs of the Kartoon Channel!, while adding exclusive content in a phased rollout. The platform will feature a fully integrated design, including custom avatars and emojis for kids, exclusive games, branded VR goggles, immersive content and NFTs for kids.

The new platform will also feature collectable digital cards based on the channel’s characters, including those from the upcoming Stan Lee Universe, debuting in the fourth quarter, and a digital currency for kids called Kidaverse MetaBuck$. Additionally, the Kartoon Channel! Kidaverse is planning to introduce child-safe messaging, podcasts, music and games.

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Andy Heyward, CEO of Genius Brand, said the SVOD is in response to a consumer need for safe over-the-top video destinations for children.

“The single strongest message we receive from parents is the concern about safety for children on screens, whether it is program content or roaming around the internet and various apps,” Heyward said. “The premise of the [platform] is to provide children with fun, positive, engaging digital media, and to provide them with a safe and parent-controlled product.”

In addition to Kartoon Channel! programming, the SVOD will include “Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Rainbow Rangers,” “Peppa Pig,” “PJ Masks,” “Minecraft,” “Surviving Roblox,” “My Little Pony” and “Yu Gi Oh.”

Kidaverse will add another 13,000 episodes under license to Ameba, including “Casper the Friendly Ghost,” “Donkey Kong Country,” “Gummy Bears” and “Rescue Heroes.” The platform will also become the home to the several thousand hours of animated content available through Genius Brands’ recent acquisition of Canada’s WOW! Unlimited Media and strategic investment in Germany’s Your Family Entertainment (YFE). The company believes this will make it the largest single children’s portal of animation in the world, with over 20,000 animated titles under license.

“As Kartoon Channel! has grown, many of our viewers have asked for a commercial-free version of the experience,” said Jon Ollwerther, president of the Kartoon Channel! “While our free, ad-supported platform will still be available to consumers, the SVOD will address that market need, while also building the 360-degree kid’s digital media platform of the future. We believe it will be a unique entertainment experience that simply cannot be had anywhere else.”

Ollwerther will oversee the development of the SVOD and its rollout across North America. Former managing director of Disney Channels Worldwide, and now managing director of Kartoon Channel! Worldwide, Paul Robinson, will lead the launch throughout the rest of the world.

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.

Former Dreamworks and Pixar Exec Kerry Phelan Joins Genius Brands as EVP and GM

Genius Brands International, a global brand management company that creates and licenses multimedia entertainment content for children, has appointed Kerry Phelan to the newly created position of EVP and GM of global franchise management.

Phelan will report to both Andy Heyward, chairman and CEO, and Harold Chizick, president of global content sales, marketing and consumer products.

In her new role at Genius Brands, Phelan will be responsible for global management of the company’s existing IP across licensing, merchandising, retail and promotions, including Stan Lee’s “Superhero Kindergarten,” “Shaq’s Garage,” “Stan Lee Universe” and “Rainbow Rangers,” as well as properties currently in development.

A 30-year consumer branding executive, Phelan successfully launched the “Star Wars” brand at Lego Systems and was recruited directly to Lucasfilm, where she led the global consumer products and promotional licensing business for the multi-billion-dollar “Star Wars” franchise in more than 60 countries worldwide. She then joined Pixar Animation Studios, reporting directly to Steve Jobs, where she launched, in concert with Disney Consumer Products,  the original “Cars” consumer product program, which became franchise totaling more than $8 billion in retail sales. Following her stint at Pixar, Phelan spent seven years at DreamWorks Animation as head of consumer products and licensing, driving the development of franchise management plans for the studio’s film and television properties, including “Shrek,” “Madagascar,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “How to Train Your Dragon.” At DreamWorks, she managed the retail consumer products business and doubled the consumer products revenue in just three years.  Most recently, she served as president of global franchise management at Lionsgate Entertainment, where under her leadership, the studio created brand extensions spanning location-based and live entertainment venues, consumer products, licensed merchandise, brand partnerships and an array of promotional ventures for such blockbuster franchises as “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight.”

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“Kerry’s pedigree and reputation in entertainment branding is unparalleled as she has driven the global revenue streams of some of the most lucrative franchises in history,” Chizick said in a statement. “In the coming year, we have multiple properties launching into the global retail marketplace, including Stan Lee’s ‘Superhero Kindergarten,’ which just premiered on Kartoon Channel!, as well as ‘Shaq’s Garage’ and ‘Stan Lee Universe’ plus more categories coming to market around ‘Rainbow Rangers.’ Kerry’s leadership and strategic guidance will be instrumental in driving the growth of our brands around the world. She is a dream executive to have on board to help us achieve our long-term goals.”

“The majority of my career has been spent building properties into global franchises, specifically in the children’s space.  Having had a peek at the coming pipeline, I am excited about the future at Genius Brands and the opportunity to build bigger brand ecosystems around their properties,” Phelan said in a statement.

Genius Brands Promotes Jon Ollwerther to President of Kartoon Channel!

Genius Brands, a global brand management company that creates and licenses multimedia entertainment content for children, has promoted Jon Ollwerther to president of family entertainment digital network Kartoon Channel!

Ollwerther previously served as GM of Kartoon Channel! and will continue in his role as EVP of business development for Genius Brands.

“I am pleased to announce the well-deserved promotion of Jon, in recognition of his significant contributions to the rapid growth and success of our hit kid’s streaming platform, Kartoon Channel,” Andy Heyward, chairman and CEO of Genius Brands, said in a statement.

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.

“Viewer rankings have put Kartoon Channel! above all other services, including Netflix, Disney+, and You Tube Kids, in both the Apple and the Google app stores,” Ollwerther said in a statement. “In addition, I am extremely proud to announce that ‘Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten’ has just surpassed 21 million views on Kartoon Channel!, over 3.6 million per episode, since the initial launch just over one month ago with six episodes now released.  We believe ‘Superhero Kindergarten’ has risen to the ranks of one of the most highly viewed new cartoon launches in history, as we are building an evergreen production that will entertain generations of children, while attracting both advertisers and consumer product licensees.

“In addition to the recently launched hit, ‘Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,’ starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, we will be rolling out ‘KC Pop Quiz!’next quarter. It is a lightning fast-paced daily game show based on pop culture where kids win cool prizes. Think Jeopardy meets HQ Trivia! Shortly thereafter, we will introduce our third original product, Shaquille O’Neal’s first animated series, ‘Shaq’s Garage,’ created by Joel Cohen, the co-writer and creator of Toy Story. Additionally, we will now be launching season three of our hit series ‘Rainbow Rangers’ with an exciting new twist.

“I am honored to take on this new role with Genius Brands, as I truly believe we are curating the very best combination of original, exclusive, and commercially acquired product within the kids’ entertainment industry.”

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Prior to joining Genius Brands, Ollwerther served as VP of media, arts and entertainment for Measure, the nation’s leading Drone as a Service company. Working with clients across the country and around the world, Ollwerther has an extensive credit list of collaborations with brands and advertising agencies to create unforgettable experiences.