EXCLUSIVE: Former Lionsgate co-COO and Motion Picture Group co-president Steve Beeks and former Fox Division president Mike Dunn have launched Elemental Content And Solutions, a new short form production and distribution company that will be a fulcrum for funding and creating live action and animated series, told in three to five minute segments. They have sealed their inaugural partnership deal with content creator Madefire that they will fete at an event tonight at San Diego Comic-Con, with more content creator partnerships to follow.
They become the latest player in a short form content field that includes Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi and several others betting that youthful consumers 18-34 will spark to a new way of consuming content, in short bites. Elemental’s initial focus will be to line up content as they align with mobile telecommunications carriers in high-growth international markets whose youthful customers are clamoring for such content. The early emphasis is overseas in Asia, South America and Europe, and their intention is to launch programming slates with those international carriers by the first half of next year.
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John Penney will join the company as its third partner early next year. Penney will be Chief Strategy Officer Business Development and Strategic Partnerships executive, and his past stints include serving as Chairman of Starz Play Arabia, the largest subscription content service in the Middle East and North Africa. He also served posts at Fox, IMG, HBO, Scient, and Viacom and spent seven years on Wall Street as equity research and corporate finance analyst.
Each of the short form players have a different construct, and Elemental will be betting on one that is economical in execution, based on good storytelling as opposed to massive star power. They don’t plan to build a distribution platform either, but rather will rely on third parties that already have that bandwidth on existing platforms and are eager to offer customers content that can either be monetized through advertising or in SVOD arrangements.
Powerhouse attorney Ken Ziffren of Ziffren Brittenham will serve as a senior adviser to Elemental.
“We saw an opportunity to start a company in front of a market that is going to expand quickly,” Dunn told Deadline. “The smartphone is changing everything about content consumption in a way comparable to the way he movie theater and later television changed everything in terms of consumer dynamics with a young demographic.”
Beeks said that while he was at Lionsgate, “we had a group under me exploring different formats, including short form and we took a long look at a company in the short form business,” he said. “We spent a lot of years figuring out what movies to make and how to create an optimal portfolio, and that branched into the exploration of trying to figure out how to develop movies and series with online talent. Mike and I are looking forward to working more closely in the intersection of technology and entertainment. Mike and I believe this is a growth area in entertainment content, where some others aren’t that any longer.”
Dunn and Beeks said they expect the partnership with Madefire to lead to more than 10 short form series — half drawn from the franchises Madefire controls and half from original stories — told in episodes told in two to five minute long bites. They will be adding other content creation partners, as they add mobile carriers abroad. Madefire has established itself as a tech-savvy comics publisher with an app called Motion Book Publisher that enables a their comics to jump off the page and exhibit motion.
The plan is to build a library with the partners benefiting from those proceeds. Star power is secondary to storytelling, they said, and they expect to tap new voices, which should keep costs reasonable. “We think this is a discovery-oriented media, as opposed to theatrical, which has to be heavily promoted and therefore star driven,” Dunn said. They hope that breakout properties in short form will lead to secondary lives as TV series or feature films, but they believe they can build a solid company in this new space. So does Ziffrin, the senior advisor who routinely puts together some of Hollywood’s most seismic deals.
“I believe strongly in the future of mobile-first entertainment,” he said in a statement. “I have known Mike, Steve and John for many years and believe that their combined and complementary talents will support the creation of a truly forward-looking production, distribution and solutions company at the intersection of technology and entertainment.”
The principals said they would be setting more content and carrier alliances shortly. Stay tuned.