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.

Genius Brands Appoints Harold Chizick President

Genius Brands International, a creator and licensor of multimedia entertainment content for children, has appointed Harold Chizick president, overseeing the global content sales, consumer products and marketing business.

Chizick is co-founder of ChizComm Ltd. and ChizComm Beacon Media, subsidiaries of Genius Brands.

He reports to Genius Brands’ chairman and CEO Andy Heyward.

Chizick, who will continue to run ChizComm Ltd. and ChizComm Beacon Media, will be responsible for driving global strategies across licensing, distribution and marketing for Genius Brands’ growing portfolio of brands, including “Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; “Shaq’s Garage,” starring Shaquille O’Neal; “Stan Lee’s Universe”; “Rainbow Rangers”; “Llama Llama”; and more, as well as the company’s streaming platform Kartoon Channel!

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“Since acquiring ChizComm and ChizComm Beacon Media earlier this year, I have experienced firsthand the level of expertise, creativity and passion that Harold brings to the business,” Heyward said in a statement. “As we continue to build our team and focus on the brands we are bringing to market, I know that Harold and our executives are in a position to dramatically drive the growth of Genius Brands in the coming years.  His expertise and relationships in the toy and game world in particular are unmatched.”

“It is an incredible time to play an integral role in building Genius Brands presence on a global scale, and I look forward to working with Andy and the executive team to take the company to the next level as we rollout new brands to the content and retail marketplace this year,” Chizick said in a statement.

Chizick has more than 20 years of experience in public relations, social media, promotions, events and product launches. At the helm of ChizComm, founded in 2013 by Harold and Jennifer Chizick, “he brings a collaborative, inventive approach to marketing for partners and clients,” according to a Genius press release.

Cinedigm Inks Streaming Deal With Genius Brands International

Cinedigm April 20 announced a digital content partnership with Genius Brands International for its Kartoon Channel!, an ad-supported streaming channel offering family-friendly content. The deal encompasses VOD as well as Free Ad-Supported TV (FAST) rights.

Cinedigm will provide movies such as animated feature Cinderella; Hero Quest, featuring the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Stone and Milla Jovovich; and Bunyan & Babe with characters voiced by John Goodman, Kelsey Grammar and Jeff Foxworthy. The partnership also includes five seasons (236 episodes) of the anime series “Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters” and holiday favorites such as “The Nutcracker.”

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“As we continue to expand into the AVOD and FAST spaces, we are committed to partnering with gold standard companies and brands,” Chris McGurk, CEO of Cinedigm, said in a statement. “Having worked with [Genius Brands CEO] Andy Heyward for decades and knowing the Genius Brands team, I know that Kartoon Channel! fits this goal well.”

Additional films included in the content distribution partnership include:
Snow White
• Puss in Boots: A Furry Tail
• The Hive
• Twinkle Toes Lights Up New York
• Tad: The Lost Explorer
• Hatched
• A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventure
• A Turtle’s Tale 2: Sammy’s Escape From Paradise

Genius Brands and POW! Entertainment Forming Stan Lee Universe Joint Venture

Genius Brands International and Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment are forming a joint venture to create Stan Lee Universe, drawing from more than 100 original Stan Lee creations from which it will develop and license approximately seven properties per year.

Stan Lee Universe will assume worldwide rights to the name, physical likeness, physical signature, live-action and animated motion picture, television, online, digital, publishing, comic book, merchandising and licensing rights to Stan Lee and his IP creations post-Marvel Entertainment and not committed elsewhere.

Genius Brands will be the managing and controlling partner of the joint venture.

“In all of Hollywood, there is no greater prize,” Andy Heyward, chairman and CEO of Genius Brands, said in a statement. “This is the Holy Grail. Stan Lee Universe is a once in a lifetime asset drawn from over 100 original, heretofore unexploited properties, created by the most successful creator of intellectual property of our time.”

The late Stan Lee created comic book characters including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Black Panther, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men, Thor, Captain America, Silver Surfer, Ant-Man, Nick Fury and Guardians of the Galaxy. Lee was the editor and creative force behind Marvel Comics, which was sold to the Walt Disney Company for $4.4 billion and resulted in a string of hit films, including The Avengers.

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“Having worked with Stan and been a close friend for almost 30 years, nothing could make me prouder than for Genius Brands to become the guardian of both his brand and body of work,” added Heyward. “I have no doubt that the greatest characters, the greatest stories, and the greatest hits from the mind of Stan Lee have yet to be told. As big as Spider-Man, Black Panther, X-Men and the Avengers are today, tomorrow it will be Stan Lee’s Tomorrow Men, his Stringbean, his Black Fury and Virus.”

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“The spinoff opportunities for Kartoon Channel! alone are mindboggling, including a dedicated Stan Lee Universe program block,added David Neuman, former president of Walt Disney Television and chief content officer of Genius Brands’ new Kartoon Channel!.

Genius Brands will be creating a dedicated business and creative unit specific to Stan Lee Universe, Heyward said.

“For the millions of Stan Lee fans, we look forward to taking this unique asset and faithfully bringing the characters to the movie screens, to comic books, to toys and licensed products worldwide,” he said.

Kids’ Series ‘Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten’ With Arnold Schwarzenegger Coming to Amazon Prime, Alibaba’s Youku

Genius Brands’ children’s animated series “Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,” featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, will premiere in spring 2021 on Amazon Prime.

Alibaba Group will also launch the series in China on its video streaming platform for kids Youku.

“With Amazon Prime in the U.S. and Alibaba in China, we are very excited to launch on these two premiere platforms in the two largest territories in the world,” said Genius Brands’ chairman and CEO Andy Heyward in a statement.

“Years ago, Stan Lee and I spoke of such a project, and I’m excited to finally bring great storytelling to kids around the world, which will also promote lessons of health, exercise, fitness and anti-bullying,” said Schwarzenegger in a statement.

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“Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten” is an action-adventure comedy series targeting kids 4-7 and is co-produced by Alibaba Group, Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment and Schwarzenegger’s Oak Productions. In addition to his likeness, Schwarzenegger lends his voice as the lead character in the series. Co-creator of Deadpool, Fabian Nicieza, who has sold more than 100 million comics worldwide, is scripting the series.

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In “Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,” five years ago, a tremendous superhero battle blanketed the small town of Greenvale in cosmic radiation. Shortly thereafter, a previously ordinary, diverse group of boys and girls are showing the most unusual superpowers. Their superpowers, however, rather than coming from Kryptonite, or a radioactive spider, come from items in their kindergarten classroom — white glue, wooden blocks, crayons, silly putty, etc. A kindergarten teacher Arnold Armstrong (Schwarzenegger) arrives in Greenvale to train these super-kids. He knows what it is like to control superpowers, because he used to be Captain Courage, the hero whose final battle resulted in the previously unknown powers of the kids. Their new instructor teaches the kids how to become the heroes of tomorrow.

“This is a series of action, comedy, and fun, based on the genius and imagination of the great creative icon, Stan Lee, and with the important lessons of health, exercise, nutrition, and anti-bullying,” according to the Genius press release. “Just as he appeared as a cameo in all of the Marvel movies, Stan himself will be an animated cameo in each episode, with a digitized recreation of his voice as well.”

“We are gathering steam with our latest tentpole series, ‘Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten,’ and are thrilled to have two of the top digital streaming partners worldwide, Amazon and Alibaba, on board as launch partners, reaching a potential global audience of hundreds of millions, as well as the talents of Arnold and the genius that was Stan,” added Heyward. “In an ever-changing children’s media landscape and current viewing patterns of children around the globe, our strategy is to offer this dynamic series where kids predominantly go to find their entertainment now. We know we have a hit on our hands and cannot wait to share it with kids everywhere.”