Everyone in marketing is always clamoring to reach a younger generation. With millennials already a force, brands and marketers are turning their attention to the up-and-coming Gen Z audience, with mixed results.
One company, however, has already reached this market and is thriving by appealing to teens and tweens after barely two years in existence – Brat, a network featuring original programming through social channels, as well as a website that extends the stories and the personalities.
Brat, created by Rob Fishman and Darren Lachtman, uses YouTube as a digital platform to create scripted shows starring digital talent, bringing their own built-in audiences to each show. Brat’s YouTube page is currently at 2.3 million subscribers, and growing.
The shows on Brat include the wildly popular Chicken Girls, about three girls who are close friends and also longtime dance partners, now in its third season.
Also, Total Eclipse, the motocross serial Dirt, A Girl Named Jo and The Talent Show. The channel also features music videos to keep appealing to the coveted impressionable age group.
The Brat website describes the business as such: All that’s old is new again. Teen eyeballs used to congregate around networks like The WB or MTV. More than platforms for Madonna singles or Dawson’s Creek, the brands themselves mattered. “The star wouldn’t be the video,” said MTV founder Bob Pittman. “The star would be the channel.” Our name is an homage to the Brat Pack of Eighties cinema; to the offbeat, unlikely heroes of yesteryear. In the spirit of John Hughes, we’re marrying this generation’s rising stars—many of whom blossomed on the Internet – with professional storytelling, production and marketing. Alongside the most recognized names in youth culture, Brat is developing the next wave of television, editorial, music and merchandise for the modern teenager. And the star is the brand.
From the ashes of Niche with a purpose
Brat was born out of Fishman and Lachtman’s previous company, Niche, which matched social media stars with brands, that was early in the influencer space. The two sold the company to Twitter for roughly $50m, which gave them the seed money to eventually start Brat.
“During our time at Niche, I had an observation – younger audiences were not watching television,” says Fishman.
He saw the staggering decrease in viewership among young people and thought there was something he could do to fill the void. Sure, kids were very active on social – Snapchat, memes, and less premium entertainment. “I looked back at teen entertainment (from earlier) and wondered, ‘where is that now?’ We looked to recreate some of that magic and storytelling of yesterday, and layer on modern talent, modern storytelling.”
What started with 'snackable’ content of roughly five minutes has now grown to 15-20 minutes, roughly the length of an average sitcom. Fishman said that the GenZ audience is looking for entertainment that speaks to them so they want to take in longer shows. Chicken Girls even recently put out a full-length movie, which garnered 15 million views on YouTube.
Development, brand integration and talent
By the time Fishman and Lachtman left Niche, they already were savvy about integrating brands natively into their content. That savviness picked up when they started Brat, and it continues to grow as brands clamor to be a part of the growth of the channel.
“(Brand integration) is our bread and butter. We have key partners,” says Lachtman, adding that outside funding for the channel comes from the “traditional media bottle."
He adds: "The next wave of content will be funded by advertisers, including engaging native content – partners, deep integrations – across video and editorial,” and notes that custom, native sponsorship and merchandise sales also fuels growth.
Brat has an in-house development team to produce its shows, and it is currently growing that team. Fishman says they take an “old studio approach – we don’t buy or solicit pitches. We have a fictional universe that takes place in the same town. Now, we’ve added a second town. Our team is designing within that universe. We have a foundation of almost two years. We have this canvas and we paint stories within in it.”
Fishman states that there are a lot more shows and new talent coming down the pike. Recently, they have launched a number of other ways for audience to interface with Brat, including more reality-type shows. Then there’s Brat.com, helping extend the universe by reporting on talent and shows.
“Brat.com is about the stories and trends. It gives us direct contact with the audience. Fans want to know more about the talent, the shows we’re making. (Outside) blogs were covering Brat religiously. We thought, ‘why don’t we cover ourselves?’ 90% traffic is on phones, so it’s largely mobile. We have a dedicated editorial team,” says Fishman.
Adds Lachtman: “Rob has a journalism background. Brat.com is a team effort, like all of our stuff. It’s a cool complement, a deeper and more engaging experience. Fans comment all the time, They tweet at us. We’ve posted polls on YouTube. We engage with the audience. We look at ourselves as purveyors of culture.”
From the music and video growth angle, they hope to help create stars through teens building out content plates, programming on IGTV, and adding Brat Radio on Spotify.
Lachtman says there is even a long-form book in the works.
The two see that they are just at the beginning of their journey with Brat, with a number of shows in syndication, some headed to their third and fourth season.
“There are a lot of seasons left there. We’re nurturing and growing franchises. The barrier of time limits doesn’t exist. We definitely have to keep to applying a strong filter to determine, is this on brand? But so far, it’s built millions of viewers,” said Fishman.
As for talent, Fishman says it is “hiding in plain sight. There are girls out there with six to 10 million people following them. Our team scouring for emerging folks. We meet with them, if we think they have star power and charisma.”
The team also looks at trends on social media, their own talent shows and other avenues to find the next stars. Because many of the talent they hire is already known on social, the Brat team doesn’t have to spend as much money on marketing their shows.
“We’re working with talent that has huge audiences. Talk to our platform partners. It’s a quality product with people our audience knows,” says Fishman.
Success is also easy to gauge, due to the data the channels take in combined with the instant feedback from the audiences once a new episode is released.
“We release our shows strategically daily at 3pm. We can tell by 5pm if it’s doing well,” says Lachtman.
“We don’t think of ourselves as digital video network. We’re a television network. Instead of ‘what do executives think of content,’ though, we can put out five episodes of a show and see how fans interact,” he adds.
Fishman sums up that Brat is authentic and built that way because the audience demands it.
“We’ve done no paid marketing except for a bit of out of home – bus wrap, billboards. Everything we do is genuine. It’s from our own content.”
Aside from the new shows and music, Brat looks to possibly take the talent on tour with a music or variety show. “We’re taking from what Disney and Marvel does – physical events. How do we produce these shows? All production and post production is done in house. It started with IP creation. Now, we’re looking for opportunities for how we extend that,” concludes Fishman.