Van Toffler’s New Digital Studio to Launch With Backing of Peter Chernin’s Otter Media

Former Viacom exec calls new digital studio Gunpowder & Sky “defiant love child” of YouTube, Netflix and multichannel networks like Maker Studio

Otter Media, a joint venture between media company Chernin Group and telecom giant AT&T, joined forces Wednesday with former Viacom executive Van Toffler to launch a digital-age studio called Gunpowder & Sky.

Both declined to discuss the financial details of the new venture, though Toffler said both sides were investing together as a partnership.

The new studio aims to hunt out edgy storytellers and filmmakers to craft content of various lengths — whether it’s 90 seconds long or 90 minutes — to be distributed globally online, calling itself the “defiant love child” of YouTube, Netflix and multichannel networks like Disney’s Maker Studios.

To make money, Toffler said the studio will produce low-budget, high-quality content with built-in audiences and shop it to the most appropriate platform, be it YouTube, Vimeo, iTunes, Netflix or Amazon.

It’s the latest move by vets of traditional media to straddle a divide between traditional TV and film content and the online content found on sites like Google’s YouTube. Though advertising dollars still heavily skew to traditional television, young viewers’ overall video viewing has swelled on a diet of media largely viewed on mobile devices.

The big media companies maybe are just taking too long… because they’re tied to the traditional business, and the traditional business worked well for a long time,” Toffler told TheWrap. The problems, he said, are that those standard formats aren’t attracting young audiences anymore and they’re rife with imperfection. He pointed to the flaws of allocating advertising dollars based on faulty viewership-measuring systems like the Nielsen ratings.

The launch brings together Toffler, who was the chief of Viacom Media Networks Music Group until last year, with media entrepreneur Peter Chernin, whose Otter Media collaboration with AT&T invested more than $500 million in a venture fund focused on online video programming.

In a statement, Chernin called Gunpower & Sky “the next great opportunity” in content production: premium video with both up-and-coming and established writers, directors and talent for distribution on emerging platforms.

At launch, Gunpowder & Sky’s projects in development include a film called “DC Trip” with producers Bona Fide Productions and Adaptive Studios about misadventures on a high-school trip to the White House, as well as a short-form animated series and several digital movies. The company is developing projects with the U.K.’s Realm Pictures and direct‐to-consumer studio Supergravity Pictures.

Gunpowder & Smoke, which was named after a lyric from the Aimee Mann song “4th of July,” is also founded by Floris Bauer, formerly global head of strategy at Endemol. Toffler said one of the studio’s interests is to nurture creators overseas even if their content never migrates to the U.S.

“For me, its about working with the people behind the camera,” Toffler said. “I’m going to be out looking for those freaks of nature.”

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