Thirteen years after launching JibJab as one of the Internet’s most popular entertainment destinations, brothers Gregg and Evan Spiridellis — now each with children — are launching kids property “StoryBots” as a new multiplatform franchise.
Property, which officially bows today as apps, ebooks, educational videos and games, revolves around a cast of colorful square- and rectangular-shaped creatures that live under the screens of iPhones, iPads, computer and TV screens and aim to make learning fun for kids 2 to 6.
Driven by the popularity of mobile and tablet devices with younger auds, the Spiridellis intend not only to reinvent the way children’s entertainment is distributed but how stories are told to them. Their new effort could provide Hollywood with the latest example of content creators who turn solely to the Web to launch new properties that go on to generate considerable coin.
The Spiridellis have essentially borrowed what proved popular for JibJab’s online videos and greeting cards — the ability for viewers to become part of the onscreen action by inserting their photos onto animated characters. Over 250 million faces have so far been uploaded to JibJab.
“Personalization is a huge component of ‘StoryBots,'” Gregg Spiridellis said.
Using JibJab’s Starring You technology, parents can turn their kids into characters that interact with the StoryBots through animated ebooks released as “StoryBots Starring You StoryBooks,” and musicvideos through the “StoryBots Starring You Band.” Separately, the “StoryBots ABC Jamboree” is a collection of 26 one-minute musicvids designed to help kids recognize the sounds and shapes of the letters of the alphabet. The “StoryBots Beep & Boop” iPhone app teaches good behavior. And the “StoryBots Activity Center,” on StoryBots.com, offers free downloadable activity sheets.
The Spiridellis quietly started introducing the characters last year through JibJab Junior Books, before releasing the StoryBots-branded ebooks on the iPad this week. A new ebook will be available every month for $3.99, with additional titles available for $1.99 each. There are currently 18 “StoryBot” ebooks available, with themes ranging from pizza to princesses. The “Beep & Boop” app launched in March and, without much fanfare, it has already been downloaded 150,000 times in 89 countries.
The Spiridellis designed the StoryBots to translate well overseas, encouraged by JibJab’s growing international audience. In the past year, JibJab has attracted over 100 million unique visitors, with half the traffic coming from foreign territories.
Some of that has to do with its content being developed overseas, in Argentina, Italy and the U.K. as well.
“The Internet doesn’t just allow us to distribute to audiences everywhere but work with great talent everywhere, too,” Gregg Spiridellis said. “It changes the storytelling format, changes the production models. It doesn’t make sense to limit yourself to one geographic area.”
Born in a Brooklyn garage in 1999 and now housed in Venice, Calif., with 43 full-time staffers, JibJab gained notoriety in 2004 for producing comedic election-themed shorts and songs like “This Land” that went viral. Its “Elf Yourself” app for OfficeMax was another hit. The company has decided not to introduce a new parody song for this year’s election, opting instead to focus on launching “StoryBots.”
Idea for StoryBots was conceived when Gregg Spiridellis, who has three children between the ages of 2 and 6, and his brother, with a 4- and 7-year old, saw how their kids interact with entertainment.
“You want to talk about seeing disruption in your own living room, watch a 2-year-old walk up to your plasma TV and try to swipe it,” Spiridellis said. “They’re watching Netflix on iPhones and curling up on the couch with iPads. Their expectations are totally different. We want to tell new kinds of stories to these kids.” Because of that, JibJab wants its StoryBots to live entirely online.
“We see it staying online because that’s how kids consume content,” Gregg Spiridellis said.
And he’s not worried about losing out on potentially bigger coin from traditional media.
“We’re in the original content business on the web that’s actually paying for itself,” he said. “What we’ve done really well with JibJab is build a brand online and build big audiences and monetize them online.”
Spiridellis said “StoryBots” was built from the ground up to be a universe of apps that will constantly be refreshed with new content each week. More than that isn’t necessary because of kids’ habits.
“One thing anybody who has kids will attest to is repetition; if they find something they like they will consume it until you’re blue in the face or you want to slam your head into the wall,” he said.
While the StoryBots content will live online, the Spiridellis will also pursue licensing and merchandising opportunities, the way Rovi was able to get its “Angry Birds” characters off mobile devices with plush toys and candy.
“Our vision for StoryBots is to build hundreds of products in the coming years that kids will love and parents can feel great about,” said Spiridellis. “We want StoryBots to be the equivalent of ‘Sesame Street’ for a connected generation.”