Participant Media Acquires Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake

James Rainey
Variety

Continuing to expand on its promise of offering entertainment content that aims to make the world a better place, Participant Media is acquiring the digital entertainment company SoulPancake.

The transaction gives the financial backer of feature films like “Spotlight,” “The Help,” and “Lincoln” control of a maker of short-form videos and inspirational programs. Actor Rainn Wilson founded SoulPancake in 2009.

Participant did not disclose the financial terms of the deal, but called SoulPancake a perfect fit for its mission of entertaining the public while also promoting the common good.

“We feel we are well established, with an ongoing, successful business in feature and documentary film, but to be the most contemporary and expansive version of Participant possible, we have to keep growing and, in this case, growing into the digital short-form space,” said Participant CEO David Linde.

SoulPancake has created web series such as “Kid President” and “The Science of Happiness.”

“Kid President” might epitomize SoulPancake’s modus operandi. The video series features 12-year-old Robby Novak — usually dressed in a suit and tie — offers  motivational talks on subjects ranging from education to parenting. Novak suffers from a genetic disease that has left him with more than 70 broken bones. He began making videos with his older brother-in-law, Brad Montague, as a lark. But the videos were so fun and uplifting they began to attract a modest audience on YouTube.

When they were discovered on by Wilson and the SoulPancake team about four years ago, Novak and Montague weren’t sure they even wanted to continue making the videos. “But they had an important message about hope for both kids and grownups. They needed to be heard,” said SoulPancake CEO Shabnam Mogharabi.

Novak and Montague signed on. Three years ago, they made a “Kid President” episode on Novak’s visit to the Oval Office. Novak tried out the president’s desk. Obama showed him an antique telegraph machine. Then the sitting president asked Novak if he was having trouble balancing third grade and being Kid President. He was not. The two presidents ended the meeting with a hug. The video got more than 10 million views.

“Now they have a larger platform and a bigger audience and, going on four years now, we love ‘Kid President’ and they love our platform,” said Mogharabi.

“The Science of Happiness,” another SoulPancake program, features a baby-faced scientist in a white lab coat learning from everyday people what makes them happy. One episode asked participants to express gratitude to those they love — then presented the testimonials to the loved-ones. The investigation concluded that subjects who expressed gratitude saw their happiness quotient increase as much as 19%.

Like a lot of SoulPancake content, “The Science of Happiness” has been featured on other platforms — Fast Company, Huffington Post, and Upworthy.  SoulPancake has 1.7 million YouTube subscribers. Its programs have also aired on the CW, MTV, VH1, Freeform, OWN, and Discovery Family.

Linde announced the deal along with SoulPancake CEO Shabnam Mogharabi announced the deal. Linde called the two companies “perfectly aligned” and said they would help each other expand their audiences, particularly among millennials. Mogharabi said in a statement that Participant and SoulPancake were “professional soulmates” and together would “truly be a force for good in the global content landscape.”

SoulPancake founder Wilson, best known for creating the character Dwight in “The Office,” said in a statement that he created SoulPancake with friends “to produce inspiring content and explore what it means to be human.” He praised the new partnership and quipped: “Plus, they gave me a reusable, BPA-free water bottle and introduced me to Al Gore.”

The acquisition of SoulPancake begins a transformation of Participant that began a year ago when Linde took over as chief executive. The company this year discontinued its Pivot television channel, which was costing millions of dollars and struggling to find an audience. At the time Participant abandoned Pivot, Linde promised the company — founded by billionaire Jeff Skoll — would find new ways to create “a steady drumbeat of content for a global audience.” The SoulPancake acquisition is a strategic initiative to help fulfill that promise.

Mogharabi will take the title of general manager and report to Participant COO Sam Neswick. SoulPancake and its 15 full-time employees will remain in their current offices in East Hollywood.

Mogharabi said the company couldn’t have imagined fielding a takeover offer from any company other than Participant. “The resources, the relationships and the financial backing of a bigger company are going to be a huge thing, in driving the heart-driven, inspirational type of content that we have been building these last few years,” she said.

Watch a video of the announcement below.

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