9 Story Media Group’s Vince Commisso

Vince Commisso, 9 Story Media Group co-founding partner, president and CEO, talks to TV Kids about the company’s positioning in the marketplace.

9 Story Media Group and its Brown Bag Films division in Ireland secured 20 nominations for the Daytime Emmy Awards this year, thanks in part to the PBS KIDS hit Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and the holiday special Angela’s Christmas. That recognition, according to Commisso, reflects the company’s investments in high-quality animation and innovative narrative techniques.

***Image***TV KIDS: It’s been almost five years since 9 Story acquired Brown Bag. How transformative was that deal for the company?
COMMISSO: It was incredibly transformative. It’s changed our production mantra. It’s made our company international. It added factors of production we didn’t have in CG. It brought us tremendous talent, creative and managerial. We have been able to develop best practices across the Atlantic. That was evidenced by our recent Emmy nominations: 20, with ten on this side, ten on that side! It also taught us how to integrate, how to do M&A. And we get to work with great people.

TV KIDS: Do you anticipate further M&A for 9 Story?
COMMISSO: The wonderful thing about being who we are now, not as a public company, is we’re not obligated to do M&A. We’ll only do it if the deal makes sense. You can’t build a company through M&A only. You have to have some organic growth. We’re focused on that at all times. Yes, I do think we will have more M&A. We have a very strong, stable balance sheet that will allow us to take advantage of [opportunities] as they come our way.

TV KIDS: How do you manage your development and production slates so you’re not overextended but still able to meet the needs of your client base?
COMMISSO: That question is even more relevant by the fact that OTT players are coming on market with unlimited shelf space, but they’re going to have to continuously restock the shelves with new shows. So you’re not making as many episodes. That will be worsened as all content consumption moves to OTT. That means you need to be able to turn over your slots to put new content in them. How do we manage that? We acquired Out of the Blue in New York. That’s their stock-in-trade. They are a creative shop that develops content, tests it, does research around it, delivers it and brings it to our OTT buyers with some proof of concept, knowing that the research is already saying it’s resonating with an audience. So that gives us a leg up. In the linear content world, Nickelodeon 30 years ago would spend an amount of money on content and slowly build the channel’s subscriber rate and build the creative in-house. They had a finite number of slots, and they would fill some of them by acquiring third-party content. They had time to develop the Nickelodeon brand, have an understanding of what it stood for and have a creative team to fill that mission of the brand. Now we’re in a place where you have tech companies saying, We have unlimited shelf space, we have to put stuff there. So they’re building from the front to back versus from back to front. They’re saying, We’re going to work with people who give us the best chance to succeed. That’s where we think our development and our research gives us an advantage.

TV KIDS: With kids bingeing entire seasons on SVOD, what do you have to do now to maintain momentum on a property?
COMMISSO: That’s one of our missions here. We have to solve for awareness. Awareness was something the broadcasters in the linear world helped you with. We have seven shows in production that we developed and we own. We do a lot more shows—some are partnerships or co-productions, for example with Scholastic or Nickelodeon, but the IP is theirs—and we do service work. We have to focus on the seven that are ours in terms of solving for awareness because on the others our partners will do that and we’ll help in any way we can. If you look at the way we develop and even produce content, we go wide. We have a lot of input for those three pipelines. With [the ones we own], we have to go deep and come up with marketing plans around each of the shows to solve for awareness. That is something you have to do today without the platform helping you. So, on the one hand, you’re hamstrung a bit because your platform doesn’t do promos—so that [wasn’t an expense before on linear]. On the other hand, you have social media and influencers that have greatly reduced the cost of solving for awareness. So then it becomes, How do you customize? So your solve for awareness is tied to the unique nature of the IP and the talent and how you answered the question of, Why this show, why now?

TV KIDS: What are your growth priorities for the company?
COMMISSO: We have to grow our live-action business. We’re going to grow our merchandising and licensing business. And our digital business is growing incredibly well as the AVOD services want some of our content nonexclusively and those revenues start to go up. Those are the three big growth priorities. But in general, our priority is to do whatever we’re doing today a little bit better tomorrow!