With a slate of more than a dozen new digital shows, two Sony Music Entertainment sister companies, Astronauts Wanted and Rumble Yard (formerly Sony Music Originals), are hoping to catch the attention of advertisers interested in reaching younger audiences and music fans.
At an event on Wednesday evening at Sony Music’s headquarters in New York, the companies held a joint presentation highlighting some of the shows they have in production for 2017. The event, hosted by actress Nicole Byer, also featured appearances by TV personality Al Roker, musician Grace VanderWaal and actress Tammin Sursok.
All three have shows in the works with the media companies. For example, Roker is producing Turntable, a new cooking and music show that pairs top musicians and chefs. Meanwhile, VanderWaal will star in a documentary about her budding music career. She became a star at age 12 while winning America’s Got Talent last year. (Rumble Yard is also producing an on-the-road documentary with DJ duo The Chainsmokers.)
That’s just a sampling of the shows Sony Music Entertainment has in the works. The company has between 40 and 50 shows either in concept form or in production. So far, 15 of them have been sold, according to Lee Stimmel, head of original content. While Astronauts Wanted is more focused on younger audiences, Rumble Yard is aiming to appeal to all generations of music fans.
“I think the overall thread in everything we do is that clearly music is in our DNA, so it’ll always be a part of it,” Stimmel told Adweek. “But we’re also showing very different takes on music and content.”
It’s the first year Astronauts Wanted and Rumble Yard have presented at the annual IAB DigitalContent NewFronts. According to Christine Murphy, svp of branded entertainment at Astronauts Wanted, the company is focusing on creating series rather than “one-and-done” productions. Murphy said the slate of branded programs at the moment is around 15 shows, ranging in stages of development from conception to pilot.
Murphy said that while some of the content is relevant to millennials, it’s weighted toward an even younger audience—specifically, people under 22. She said the Gen Z audience tends to have a worldview that’s not quite “less optimistic” but “a little more sober.”
“They kind of have this heightened sense of intuition,” she said. “We call them ‘woke,’ right? I mean millennials say it ironically because we’re snarky, but with Gen Z, they really are progressive. You think about Jayden Smith and his metaphysical musings. They trend in that direction, and they’re adulting because of this, because they’ve seen some shit, because they’re a little bit more evolved. They’re like ‘Shit, I don’t have time to waste. I need to be successful now.'”
One Gen Z influencer working with Astronauts Wanted is Andrew Lowe, a 19-year-old YouTuber who’s developing a show called Late Late Later Live, a news commentary show meant to help a younger generation understand and care about the news in formats other than longer articles. He said he wants to provide the news in “fun and funny ways that are gentle and tuck you into bed.”
In one segment, Lowe tells bedtime stories to a group of stuffed animals. But instead of using verbatim lines from classic children’s books, he gives each one a more newsy twist. For example, he remakes “Goodnight Moon” into “Goodnight Russians,” which includes illustrations relevant to the ongoing controversy surrounding whether or not President Donald Trump’s administration kept close ties to the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“It’s very nighttime, bedtime routine-themed,” Lowe told Adweek. “You’re supposed to watch it while you’re doing your bedtime routine.”
But not everything Astronauts Wanted is producing is for Gen Z. One new scripted show stars Sursok in a comedy loosely based on her real-life story of going from being an actress in Australia to starting from scratch in Los Angeles. Sursok has gone from wearing spacesuits next to men dressed as Jesus to playing a role in the hit series Pretty Little Liars. And she now has a production company with her writer-director husband, Sean McEwin.
Sursok told Adweek she’s gone from being averse to online content to embracing digital storytelling.
“I was so anti-it for so long,” she said. “And then I realized that sometimes we don’t always have the opportunities to tell our stories the way we want to tell them. We’re not all able to get an HBO show where we get to tell our truth for five, six, seven seasons. But what we do get is to pick up a camera and access to things like YouTube, which gets access to people straight away, and you can tell your story instantly.”
While Sursok admits there is a lot of bad content out there, she said she prefers to have her 3-year-old daughter grow up watching scripted shows rather than just quick videos with little substance.
“I don’t love thinking about my daughter watching YouTube videos that are so quick,” she said. “For me, I love the scripted stuff that’s about heart.”