2 teen stars made a 'Holiday Spectacular' YouTube movie with startup Brat, which has raised over $40 million, and an expert predicts it will be a massive hit
- Digital media startup Brat will release a "Holiday Spectacular" YouTube movie on December 21 featuring two of the biggest teen stars working today: 14-year-olds Annie LeBlanc and Mackenzie Ziegler, both of whom have 3 million YouTube subscribers.
- This will be a blockbuster event for Gen Z audiences, according to Famous Birthdays founder Evan Britton, whose platform tracks digital influencer trends.
- Brat is banking on original IP monetized by ads, and other avenues like licensing and merchandising, to succeed where other teen-focused upstarts have failed.
If you aren't tapped into the teen media universe, you might not be familiar with 14-year-olds Annie LeBlanc, who has 3.3 million YouTube subscribers, and Mackenzie "Kenzie" Ziegler, who has 3 million.
But they are two of the most famous teens in the world, and their stars are rising fast.
"Annie LeBlanc and Mackenzie Ziegler are the two biggest female Gen Z stars right now," Evan Britton, founder of the website Famous Birthdays, told Business Insider. Famous Birthdays serves as a compendium of knowledge about celebrities, particular young digital influencers, and gets 19 million monthly unique visitors. "We're able to see in real-time, based on our user activity, which stars have the most excitement right now," Britton said.
And Britton predicts that the upcoming "Brat Holiday Spectacular," an hour-long YouTube movie in which LeBlanc and Ziegler will appear in a produced video together for the first time, will be massive. "It's clear to us what Gen Z will be doing on December 21," the day the movie comes out, Britton said.
That prediction is music to the ears of Brat cofounder Rob Fishman, whose digital media company is making the movie. Fishman and cofounder Darren Lachtman launched Brat in the summer of 2017 with the goal of making scripted shows for teens that paired high-quality production with Gen Z digital talent. Fishman, who sold his last company to Twitter for around $50 million, has raised $42.5 million in venture funding for Brat.
Fishman said the idea of the "Spectacular" was to bring Brat's stars from its various shows together in a "Love Actually"-style narrative about an estranged family reuniting for the holidays - all set at a mall.
LeBlanc is the star of Brat's first breakout hit show, "Chicken Girls" (returning for season 4 in March), and Ziegler, who got her start on Lifetime's "Dance Moms," anchors Brat's other biggest hit, "Total Eclipse" (whose season 3 will also come out in March).
All Brat's shows exist in the same fictional universe, and in it LeBlanc and Ziegler come from rival towns. In the "Spectacular," their characters will meet for the first time.
Here's the trailer:
'Chicken Girls' and how Brat plans to make money
The "Spectacular" is not the first movie project Brat has done. This summer, Brat made a 1 hour and 10 minute "Chicken Girls" movie with Lionsgate. It currently has 17 million YouTube views and over 300 million minutes of watch time. The average view time was over 20 minutes, with 85% on mobile or tablets, Fishman said.
Because of the high level of engagement, Fishman said Brat is planning to make a movie-length project every quarter.
Brat monetized the "Chicken Girls" movie with YouTube ads running throughout, which, while fairly lucrative, did not cover costs, Fishman said.
"We do these films more to drive audience than revenue," Fishman said, which is true of much of Brat's output at this stage. Brat's general revenue plan is to build a big direct ad sales business while expanding into many types of IP monetization, like licensing and merchandising. "You can't rely on Google or Facebook to do your business for you," Fishman said. "They can help you build a big audience but they are not going to do the work for you."
The road is not easy. A few digital media companies, like Defy Media and Fullscreen, crashed and burned as they attempted to make the transition from a multi-channel network business to one focused on original IP starring YouTubers and other digital talent. Brat hopes that starting from scratch in a "studio" model will be successful, however.
"We look a little bit more like a 1930s studio system than a current-day tech company," Fishman said, noting Brat just crossed 50 employees.
Netflix and the perils of partnering
Brat isn't the only digital media company trying to shake up holiday programming.
After Netflix scored a surprise breakout hit with "A Christmas Prince" last year, the streaming company followed it up with a sequel this year, and a slew of other cheesy holiday movies including "The Princess Switch" starring Vanessa Hudgens and "The Holiday Calendar." Netflix is going up against holiday schmaltz heavyweights Lifetime and Hallmark and holding its own.
Could a Netflix collaboration with Brat be in the future? Awesomeness Films, which has its roots in Gen Z and YouTube and is now owned by Viacom, produced Netflix's 2018 smash hit rom-com, "To All the Boys I've Loved Before." So, at the very least, Netflix seems interested in what digital native companies can offer.
But Fishman said that, for the time being, Brat isn't entertaining partnerships with any outside platforms, even ones that have done a "fantastic" job programming, like Netflix. "We want our fans to associate 'Chicken Girls' or 'Total Eclipse' with our brand, and not with a third party." He said "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" actually spoke to the dangers of partnering, since viewers "may not even realize Awesomeness was involved."
"It's the difference between building brand equity and providing production services," Fishman continued. "Obviously as these platforms evolve down the line, we'll stay in close touch and work together where it makes sense. But for now, we're committed to free and ad-supported."