Keynote: 9 Story’s Vince Commisso


Vince Commisso, the president and CEO of 9 Story Media Group, weighed in on the strategy for building brands and the company’s approach to diversity and representation in his keynote at the TV Kids Summer Festival.

9 Story takes a multiphase approach to brand-building. “We’re trying to come up with a name for that multiphase approach,” Commisso said in conversation with TV Kids’ Kristin Brzoznowski. “It’s something we’ve recently leaned into with Karma’s World and our partnership with Mattel. Karma’s World is a model of what brand-building for us means.” Netflix commissioned the show, created by Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, from 9 Story Media Group and Karma’s World Entertainment.

Read excerpts from the session below, and watch the entire keynote here.

“There are so many offshoots to producing that content in terms of supporting it and bringing it to market in a way that has to align and be congruent with the content you’re making. Any slip up can undermine that entire effort,” Commisso continued. That means being “transparent with your broadcaster or platform partner on what your plans are. For those plans in terms of building the equity of the show outside of the platform, you elicit their help whenever you can. It’s an all-hands-on-deck endeavor, from promotion to merchandising and licensing to distribution efforts to relationship management.”

Commisso continued, “We live in a very dynamic time around content, especially around kids’ content, so you have to make sure your partners are aware of that dynamism and they lean into it in a way that makes the brand-building endeavor more feasible, more likely. We feel like we have partners on board now that are of that ilk.”

As the marketplace gets more crowded, strategies for finding the right home for a show “are evolving,” Commisso noted. On-demand services “are trying to offer all things to all people now—it’s the old broadcast model being delivered in an OTT, unlimited shelf space, VOD model. That was spearheaded by Netflix, but many others have followed. I think you’ll see more that will follow. It’s up to us to keep watching what they do and see what their points of differentiation are, and that will inform our strategy. Ultimately, you get to a place where you want the best home for your show, and there are some early indications of what that means, but mostly it’s going to evolve when you see a settling of the landscape. We’ve seen a lot of SVOD players, but now we’re seeing AVOD players, large ones, come into the marketplace. They are taking a strategy now that we’re sure will be different a year from now. We have to remind ourselves that five years ago, it wouldn’t have even been possible to do the shows we’re doing today. I think that will be true five years from now relative to now.”

On building awareness for shows, especially on streamers, Commisso noted, “We work with them, and outside agencies, to promote the show—its launch, its drop strategy—and we lean into other platforms to heighten the awareness. YouTube helps with that endeavor. TikTok is emerging as one of those endeavors. Of course, we’ll use other social media platforms. It is about figuring out how to find what you believe the audience for the show to be in advance of the show dropping. There are myriad strategies you can follow to solve for awareness, which is what the endeavor is going in. But it is unique to every show. You have to marry what the show is to who you believe is going to watch it. You have to rely on data coming back to you on your spend so you can continue down the path you’re on or redirect based on the feedback you get. It is a strategy that really can be efficient and very effective. Or if you don’t adjust quickly, it can be a complete waste of money!”

While the quest for educational content from the marketplace has diminished somewhat since the start of the pandemic, Covid-19 “unearthed for parents, and in many cases for kids, that there’s great entertainment value in educational content. I think there was in some people’s minds a line between the two. That’s not the case. We have a terrific partnership with PBS KIDS, and every one of our shows has to have high entertainment value and every one has a curriculum. Those shows will have terrific, long-lasting value because of that.”

On diversity and inclusion, Commisso noted, “Authenticity is a must. You can’t make content that has long-term value if the characters aren’t represented by actors who are of the culture the characters represent. That is something that most of the kids’ industry has been good about in most cases. Now, the entire industry has to present authentic content in all cases. So it was good, it’s getting better, it will ultimately be a non-issue, and it must be.”

Commisso added, “What we offer, for our viewers, is both a mirror and a window. But there’s no window into another world without a mirror that reflects the world they’re in, and they’ll know if that mirror isn’t an authentic one. If what you’re presenting as a form of entertainment isn’t something they can relate to in regards to their own lives, you’re going to fail. I think that’s the way it should be.”

Commisso then talked more about Karma’s World, created by Bridges and inspired by his daughter Karma. “Chris did some work on it for six years with various creative and financial partners. And then he saw Doc McStuffins, which was produced by Brown Bag Films in Dublin. Chris called them in 2014. In 2015, 9 Story partnered with Brown Bag Films and Chris kept going on with the effort. In 2018, we acquired Out of the Blue, led by Angela Santomero’s team in New York, which developed the show with Brown Bag in Dublin. We created a great demo, and then Netflix came on board as a partner. Even with us and Chris on board, it took four years before the series would find its legs, which is not uncommon in development. Chris has been a terrific partner. Everyone stuck with it, and the reason we feel it’s going to work and make a big statement is there is value in the authenticity. That is going to be expressed in ways that we have not seen it be expressed in the past.”

On the path forward for 9 Story, Commisso noted, “The belief inside the company is that all we have to do today versus what we did yesterday is be just a teensy bit better in our jobs. If we are, then over time, it will be tremendous progress. That curve is significant and is accelerated by making sure that our great talent is supported by technology and by processes that will create outcomes that are far superior a year from now than they are today. The challenge is, no matter what, you’re still limited as to how many shows you can do. That’s our growth challenge. The opportunity is many new players are coming on stream, and because there’s so much demand for kids’ content in general, it allows us to turn inwards and say, OK, exactly what kind of dent do we want to make in the universe? How do we want to be positioned as a company in terms of the shows we make that we’ll be remembered for? We think that’s an important part of defining who we are. We do believe that will lead to more commercial opportunities. It’s not something you can predict, but it’s something that we feel is necessary. We’re at an inflection point in our business, but that mostly has to do with the culture of our company, what we want to do, the why of 9 Story and Brown Bag Films as we move forward. Without being able to tell you why, we’re all confident that being able to wrap our arms around that firmly will result in growth.”