Van Toffler, Otter Media to launch digital-first entertainment studio

Van Toffler, shown here at MTV studios in New York in 2011, is launching a Los Angeles based digital-first content studio, Gunpowder & Sky.

Van Toffler, shown here at MTV studios in New York in 2011, is launching a Los Angeles based digital-first content studio, Gunpowder & Sky.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

The former head of MTV who helped introduce the world to “Beavis and Butthead,” “The Real World,” “Jackass,” “Jersey Shore” and “Napoleon Dynamite” is looking to ignite programming again — this time with an assist from the Chernin Group’s Otter Media.

Van Toffler, who left MTV last year after 28 years, on Wednesday announced his second act: launching a digital-first content studio called Gunpowder & Sky, which is designed to have a subversive edge.

“I wanted to get away from managing and back to my first love which is innovating and creating,” Toffler told The Times.


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The entertainment studio will be based in Los Angeles and co-owned by Otter Media, the investment venture backed by the Chernin Group and telecommunications giant AT&T.

Gunpowder & Sky’s goal is to produce and distribute short videos and long-form programs domestically as well as internationally. The intent is to feed a growing appetite for narrative-driven content that can be consumed on various screens.

“There is a paucity of great content in narrative form out there,” Toffler said. “And there are lots of distributors on the hunt for premium content and great storytelling. It feels like there is a genuine content rennaissance going on.”

If there was a model for his new venture, Toffler said, it would be the early days of David Geffen’s Asylum Records, which came together in the early 1970s with such artists as Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and Glenn Frey, who went on to form the Eagles with Don Henley.

Another inspiration, Toffler said, would be Miramax, when Harvey and Bob Weinstein owned the film company they named after their parents.

“In those cases, the brand meant something,” Toffler said.

The digital studio was formed following conversations between Toffler and Peter Chernin, the former Fox president, who wanted to get into business with the former MTV chief. Early last year, Toffler announced that he was leaving his job as chief executive of Viacom Media Networks Music Group.

The timing was right.

“In the last few years, we have seen the emergence of this new generation of storytellers who are getting better and better and younger and younger,” said Jesse Jacobs, president of the Chernin Group. “And we want to be the place where the talent wants to go.”

Toffler will serve as chief executive. Content produced is expected to run 90 seconds, several minutes or even as much as 90 minutes. A project already is in the works for a four-minute animation series as well as digital-first horror movies.

Unlike many digital studios, programming produced by Gunpowder & Sky will not be steered to a specific outlet, including those owned by AT&T, a backer of Otter Media. Instead, content will be shopped to various outlets, including YouTube’s Red, Netflix, Apple Inc.'s iTunes, Hulu and others.

Otter Media, formed nearly two years ago, has a strong track record in picking winning investments, including Fullscreen and Crunchyroll, a hugely popular over-the-top video network that specializes in Japanese anime.

Veteran TV distribution executive, Floris Bauer, who previously worked as global head of strategy at production firm Endemol, is another co-founder of Gunpowder & Sky and will serve as its president.

The name Gunpowder & Sky was not meant to invoke weapons or explosives, said Toffler, who doesn’t fit that profile. Instead, it is a line from a wistful song by Aimee Mann, “Fourth of July,” which is apparently about a failed relationship, passing of days and summer reflections.

Twitter: @MegJamesLAT