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PoppycockTV wants to be the cord-cutter's replacement for Adult Swim

PoppycockTV wants to be the cord-cutter's replacement for Adult Swim
Feldspar Studios founders Luisa Huang, left, and John Attanasio are trying to get short animated videos in front of young adults more quickly than a film studio could. (Feldspar Studios)

Those bored with Looney Tunes, Scooby-Doo and Batman soon could find alternatives on Facebook and Snapchat.

At least that’s the promise of Feldspar Studios, a Los Angeles start-up that’s trying to apply the tech industry’s strategies of small bets, failing fast and going Internet-centric to animated video production.

Momentum is going in the company’s favor. Initial episodes of Feldspar’s first batch of series generated more than 180,000 views online over the last three weeks. And start-up development and investment firm Science Inc. recently invested an undisclosed sum in Feldspar.

John Attanasio and Luisa Huang spent the bulk of their careers in marketing and strategy roles at Warner Bros. and Walt Disney Co. before co-founding and self-funding Feldspar two years ago.

They got a good look at start-up culture as mentors at Media Camp, a program that Warner Bros. and Turner operated to support and learn from emerging companies. The experience led Huang and Attanasio to the realization that trying to nurture new ideas raised difficult challenges in a vast media enterprise beholden to its big, cash-producing franchises and Wall Street.

“Studios are looking for proven properties more than original stuff,” Attanasio said. “Studios … have overhead. You’re already into something that will make the economics tough.”

The pair expect to have greater flexibility with Feldspar. They plan to start with a handful of channels, each with a few shows. The first channel, PoppycockTV, exists today as a Facebook page. It’s all about feeding young adults edgy, offbeat and a-bit-dirty humor, Attanasio said.

Based on the early feedback and viewership, they’ve already approved two shows for further production: “Emoji Theater,” which makes fun of text-message conversations, and “CSR: Customer Service Rep,” which develops jokes from real product reviews.

“In a way, we’re just treating this like a venture capitalist treats a portfolio of companies,” Attanasio said. 

As things do well, they’ll get more money and exposure. Most of the prototypes might not work out, but Feldspar aims to test and move on more rapidly than a big studio would.

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A look at some of the initial series for PoppycockTV, an offering of humorous videos aimed at young adults.

Attanasio added that Feldspar, working with social media marketing experts at Science, can get videos in front of consumers faster than a bulky studio could. Media companies are still experimenting with how to match the tech model: This year, Time Warner and Critical Content both launched content incubators.

Feldspar is developing ideas internally and scouting the streets and Internet forums for artists to invest in. It expects to generate revenue through advertising, integrating sponsors into videos and licensing fees.

It might take a while for Feldspar’s productions to generate the revenue that “Harry Potter” or “Dark Knight” content could. But Science is betting that what Feldspar makes and learns along the way will be of value to Nickelodeon-owner Viacom and other media companies.

Science Chief Executive Mike Jones said providing fresh animated content is an overlooked opportunity on YouTube and other online video services, which are flooded with videos about beauty, health and tech.

“Whether people know it or not, all my investments in the last year have been in content-centric companies,” Jones said, declining to disclose the other firms. “This is where everyone should be investing.”

Music giants ready to back start-ups

Here’s a sign that the war between tech start-ups and the music industry — a conflict raging since the days of Napster — may finally be coming to an end.

Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group are financing a forthcoming start-up mentorship program that aims to give both sides a leg up. Each start-up gets about $120,000 in funding and regular advisement from executives at the music companies.

The initial batch of small companies will work out of an office in Los Angeles’ Mid-Wilshire neighborhood for three months starting in February, according to Techstars, the company operating the program on behalf of the music companies.

The program comes after years of struggles for tech companies seeking partnerships with the music industry. Music start-ups have become a scary term for venture capitalists, bringing to mind the horrors of agreeing to, let alone figuring out how to afford, deals to license songs. 

Subscription growth at streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, coupled with declining sales from music downloads, seems to have brought the industry to a crossroads. And it’s ready to choose the path lined with entrepreneurs, said Techstars music managing director Bob Moczydlowsky, who previously oversaw music initiatives at Twitter.

“Everyone’s gone to their corners the last 15 years, and it’s finally time for everyone to take a few steps toward the middle,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy, but these music companies did just write me checks. I can’t think of anything more compelling in business to show you believe in something than that.”

The change of pace is materializing in other ways too. Warner Music Group disclosed last week that it’s moving its headquarters from a film studio lot in Burbank to downtown L.A.’s up-and-coming Arts District.

Bryce Clemmer, who runs one of the few start-ups that has managed to partner with music companies, said the move to a neighborhood popular with tech companies should be a boost.

“Warner has been striking deals to grow their footprint in digital, [and] they potentially can attract better talent with the new office,” said Clemmer, chief executive of Vadio.

Moczydlowsky noted that less than 2% of all the investment in mobile services is tied to music. But listening to music is the second-most-popular activity on smartphones, behind chatting.

The goal is to invite start-ups from around the world that are addressing existing problems, whether they deal with streaming songs to cellphones in developing countries or recommending products based on musical tastes.

Techstars Music’s other backers include speaker maker Sonos, four artist or event management firms and video game maker Harmonix Music Systems.

Munchery starts serving lunch in L.A. offices

After establishing itself as a dinner alternative for those who don’t want to cook, Munchery wants to be everyone’s lunch alternative too.

The San Francisco company, which prepares and deliver meals, rolled out last week a lunchtime version of Munchery@Work, its corporate dinner delivery program. 

The lunches will be packaged similarly to the dinners individuals can order, in microwave and oven-safe packaging. Menu items, priced at about $7.50 on average, will be similar to Munchery’s dinner offerings, which differ from city to city but often include staples such as grain bowls, pasta dishes, roast chicken and salmon fillets. Lunch is available to companies in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and New York.

Tri Tran, Munchery’s chief executive, said lunch required new logistics strategies. Where dinner hours are spread out anywhere from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., the lunch rush is consistently around noon, Tran said. Delivering hundreds or thousands of meals to individuals in a 30-minute window presents a challenge.

“It’s easier to serve an office environment by dropping off multiple meals instead of one-off meals,” he said.

The company has no plans to offer lunch to non-corporate customers, but hasn’t ruled it out.

As the meal delivery industry becomes increasingly saturated, start-ups such as Munchery have diversified their services to get a foothold in customer’s lives. In addition to doing corporate lunch and dinner deliveries and individual dinner deliveries, the company also ships meal kits, similar to Blue Apron and Plated, where customers can cook their own supper. 

--Tracey Lien

Do you have a city-changing idea?

The Knight Foundation has launched a nationwide hunt for start-ups that, in the organization’s words, are expanding economic opportunity.

The nonprofit group plans to invest $5 million in companies or people operating in 26 target cities in the third year of the Knight Cities Challenge. Long Beach is the only Southland city eligible. Among the past winners were a subscription service that mails a box of local items each month in Akron, Ohio, and a plan to convert a bus station in Lexington, Ky., into a farmers market of sorts.

Reaction Commerce gets seed funding

A Santa Monica company hoping to make selling stuff online easier for business owners received $2.7 million from CrossCut Ventures, Double M Partners and others.

Reaction Commerce says operating online shopping portals is difficult to manage, especially as a business grows. Its service aims to make customizing an online presence across devices and browsers faster and easier for retailers of any size. 

Chief Executive Sara Hicks has held product management roles at e-commerce services Etsy, Spot Runner, City Search and Yahoo. She and co-founder Aaron Singmaster-Judd were previously together at Uncovet, a Science-backed start-up that had tried to provide personalized clothing recommendations.

Elsewhere on the Web

Working at Snap, formerly Snapchat, means you probably won’t know what the vast majority of your co-workers at the secretive company are up to, according to Business Insider.

Drink maker Bulletproof Coffee plans to open a laboratory in Santa Monica for biohacking, where people try to improve their health by closely monitoring their diet and using special equipment like standing on a vibrating platform, according to Business Insider.

BuffetGo, a Los Angeles-based start-up that helps sell excesses from buffet restaurants for cheap, wants less food to end up in landfills, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Bedding brand Parachute is making a one-bedroom loft filled with its products in Venice available for $600 a night for travelers, according to Business Insider.

In case you missed it

Start-ups and some of the nation’s largest defense companies are racing to developing ways to keep drones out of high-risk areas, including by hacking into them and shooting them down.

For years, Los Angeles’ tech industry has been waiting for its big day: image-sharing app Snapchat’s initial public offering. Now the region’s engineers and investors may finally be able to start circling dates on the calendar

How Lisa Sugar grew her blog into a global media empire.

To future-proof itself from competitors, Google announced a new slate of electronic devices that support voice search and come pre-installed with Google Assistant, the company’s artificial intelligence bot that can do a wide variety of things, including answering queries and making restaurant reservations.

Coming up

In celebration of International Day of the Girl on Tuesday, the group Critical Path is posting a short documentary about the software development camp Girls Make Games. Since launching in 2014, the camps have sought to foster environment where girls feel comfortable talking about, making and testing video games.

"Girls Level Up" goes inside a coding camp for kids.

paresh.dave@latimes.com

 

Twitter: @peard33

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