Participant Media is growing its digital video business with the acquisition of Rainn Wilson's SoulPancake, the company behind web series Kid President.
The deal, terms of which were not disclosed, aligns Jeff Skoll's company with a new-media enterprise that shares its mission to create content - whether that be films, documentaries or short-form web series - that inspires social change. "When you walk in here, it's a bunch of people who are very committed to Jeff's vision and the mission to make what we call great, entertaining content that contributes to the conversation of real change and improvement in the world," says Participant CEO David Linde. "That's really reflected in the folks at SoulPancake. They share our perspective on what we can accomplish as companies."
The Office's Wilson co-founded SoulPancake as a website in 2009 and later launched a YouTube channel as part of the streamer's original channel initiative, which seeded digital producers with funding to make higher-quality online video. Its hits have included the Kid President franchise as well as its The Science of Happiness series, and today the SoulPancake network has 1.7 million YouTube subscribers and more than 300 million total video views.
SoulPancake CEO Shabnam Mogharabi says that the company's revenue has tripled over the last four years, but last year she began to explore opportunities that would grow the digital footprint of the brand. She approached Participant about a partnership and the discussion eventually evolved into acquisition talks. "Right off the bat, we realized how aligned we were," she says. Adds Linde: "Jeff and Rainn and several of the other principals at the company sat together about six months ago in my office to discuss how to bring a deal together. That part of the conversation lasted about five minutes. The rest of the hour we spent together was about potential storytelling together."
While SoulPancake has transitioned some of its online projects for television, including a three-night CW special for My Last Days over the summer, a tie-up with Participant opens up new distribution avenues.
"One of the big reasons that we set out looking for that next chapter was to really help to grow and expand the digital footprint of SoulPancake," says Mogharabi. "Partnering with such a well-respected company in the entertainment space, one that is excited about the future of digital and is looking to grow and invest in that space, we are going to be well positioned to grow out our platform." She adds that Participant will help to enhance SoulPancake's traditional content and digital agency businesses, as well.
Participant, meanwhile, was looking to add digital video to a business that is already producing films such as Spotlight and The Help, as well as documentaries like He Named Me Malala and Citizenfour. "It's vital for us to be communicating with our audience on as consistent a basis as possible and also to be as contemporary as possible," says Linde. "That necessitates a move into digital short-form programming. We were lucky to find an organization that was so healthy and so dynamic and was already doing it in a way that matches with what we do."
Under the deal, Mogharabi will become general manager of SoulPancake and report to Participant COO Sam Neswick. SoulPancake will continue to operate out of its existing Los Angeles offices. Wilson will continue to drive the creative direction of the company and will also have broader creative input on Participant digital content and campaigns. Says Linde: "When you met somebody who is as intelligent, creative and committed as Rainn, it only benefits your own perspective and experience."