The Thunderbird & Atomic Spirit


Thunderbird Entertainment’s Jennifer Twiner McCarron, CEO; Matt Berkowitz, president and chief creative officer; and Richard Goldsmith, president of global distribution and consumer products, shared details on the company’s strategy to become a global studio at the TV Kids Festival.

The three executives took part in a keynote conversation with TV Kids’ group editorial director, Anna Carugati, which you can watch here. “Thunderbird is a high-quality, global content company,” said Twiner McCarron. “We create, own and distribute award-winning factual, animated and scripted content worldwide. One of the differentiators for us is making sure that content is diverse and inclusive. Our studio was awarded most diverse and inclusive company in British Columbia this year.”

Atomic Cartoons, which Thunderbird acquired in 2015, was formed as largely a work-for-hire outfit. Beat Bugs, however, “reestablished Atomic as a co-producer and back on the IP side of things,” Berkowitz explained. The goal, he said, “was to try to get to a point where we could be 50/50 between service work and IP.”

The company’s recent credits include Molly of Denali for PBS KIDS and The Last Kids on Earth for Netflix.

“On the service side you’re operating on the margins of the production and getting your profits there,” said Berkowitz on the business case for Thunderbird to develop and own its own IP. “On the IP side, if that shows takes off there’s a lot of upside there and a lot of room to grow. We felt we were mature enough in terms of working on content that it was time to switch over and get into both revenue streams.”

Goldsmith joined Thunderbird to oversee its IP distribution and consumer-products business across the company. “Our main goal is to sell series and bring financing to make our productions happen. The company has largely been focused on North America, yet through relationships with other distributors before I joined, [our] series have been distributed all around the world. The second opportunity is to distribute other people’s content. We soon will announce our first series that we’re investing in as a distributor, not a producer. On the consumer-products side, we own some fabulous brands, whether it’s The Last Kids on Earth or Highway Thru Hell. We think there’s great value in mining the consumer-products rights that have not been mined before.”

Twiner McCarron then talked about the studio’s approach to attracting and retaining talent. “Our job is to give them the best runway and experience possible so excellence can shine. We continue to focus on creating a safe space where no one feels like a number, where innovation can happen, mistakes are allowed.”

She went on to note that diversity and inclusion is a driver for the company. “As content providers, we feel it’s our responsibility that every person, regardless of race or gender, can see themselves reflected back in content in a positive light, especially with kids’ shows. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s good for business.”

On what’s driving the surging demand for animation and content in general, Goldsmith noted, “The stage was set before Covid with the growth of the subscription VOD platforms. The fact that this year Netflix is going to spend about $17 billion on content, there’s a lot of pressure on all of these subscription platforms to have just as much content and great quality. There’s a huge appetite at the subscription platforms for high-end series, the kinds of series that we make. At the same time, you have the new AVOD platforms coming up that are mostly acquiring existing content, but in our recent conversations, they are going to go into the original content business, and that will open up even further for us. Lastly, the traditional television networks all have to compete with the ones we just talked about. Everybody needs content, more than ever. We think this boom will continue for many years.”

Berkowitz also referenced the demand for animation outside of the kids’ space, notably in co-viewing and family content, as well as in adult animation.

The conversation then moved to brand-building strategies. Goldsmith noted that a lot of platforms are seeking out established IP. “It allows us to have a leg up with awareness, globally. Given that discoverability of shows is such a huge issue, it’s one strategy to break through.”

Looking ahead, M&A is seen as part of the company’s strategy for becoming a global studio. “We want to have other people at our table who represent regions that are important, like the U.K. and Europe and Asia and other places, to give a global perspective,” Goldsmith said. “It will make us a better production company.”