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Awesomeness Co-Chiefs Talk About Life Under Viacom, Building a Studio for Gen Z

Digital media players face uncertain and challenging economic times — and the best outcome these days for struggling independents may be to get swallowed by a larger entity.

Nine months after Viacom scooped up Awesomeness for a fire-sale price, the co-heads of the youth-targeted division — Rebecca Glashow and Shelley Zimmerman — say they couldn’t have asked for a better home.

“It’s been beyond our expectations in terms of how we can align with not only VDS [Viacom Digital Studios] but the broader Viacom brands,” said Glashow. “We’ve been able to take Awesomeness and hit the ground running.”

Added Zimmerman, “Part of why we’re so excited about the prospects for Awesomeness is that we’re partnered with a company that has built iconic youth brands.”

Of course, Awesomeness went through pain in assimilating into Viacom: The media conglomerate cut nearly 100 Awesomeness employees — about half the staff — after deal closed last July.

Glashow wouldn’t disclose financial details of Awesomeness’ operations. But she said the company’s cutbacks helped accelerate its growth, compared with its previous ownership under Comcast’s NBCUniversal, Verizon and Hearst. “We’ve made a lot of changes, and being part of Viacom has let us tap into resources that have made us more efficient,” she said.

One of the reasons Awesomeness has clicked with Viacom: The group is overseen by Viacom Digital Studios president Kelly Day, who worked with Glashow and Zimmerman at Awesomeness as chief business officer. Also in Viacom’s senior ranks is Brian Robbins, currently president of Nickelodeon, who co-founded AwesomenessTV in 2012 and provides critical support to the Awesomeness team.

“We’re inside a company where we have the ability to partner and collaborate and align with their goals,” Glashow said.

Glashow praised Awesomeness’ parent, touting its “best-in-class distribution relationships” and noted that Awesomeness is working with Viacom International Media Networks to sell its content around the world. she also cited Viacom’s relationships with marketers “that are such a scale we’re able to tap into that immediately. We’re able to amplify our series on Day One.”

All that said, some of Awesomeness’ recent wins — with popular movies and series it has sold to Netflix and Hulu — have less to do with Viacom and more to do with the company’s history of focusing on content for teen audiences on YouTube and social media.

To All the Boys I've Loved Before
“To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” on Netflix, starring Noah Centineo and Lana Condor

Awesomeness is the studio behind Netflix 2018’s film phenomenon “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” — co-starring Lana Condor and Noah Centineo, which Netflix said was one of its most-streamed original movies of the year — as well as Hulu’s critically acclaimed “Pen15″ and Daytime Emmy-winning drama “Zac and Mia,” starring Anne Winters and Kian Lawley.

“We’ve been as a brand working in the teen space since the inception of Awesomeness,” said Glashow. “We’ve supersized our audience on streaming platforms, and we are proselytizers in the marketplace about connecting with that audience. The marketplace is now waking up to how critical this segment is.”

This spring’s Awesomeness film slate includes Netflix’s “The Perfect Date,” starring Centineo as a high-school student who creates a dating app that lets him act as a stand-in boyfriend to earn money for college. And Awesomeness is now working on a sequel to “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” which will again star Centineo and Condor.

Additionally, Awesomeness has sold Netflix “Trinkets,” a series based on Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith’s YA novel, which follows three teenage girls (played by Brianna Hildebrand, Kiana Madera and Quintessa Swindell) from different social circles who form an unlikely friendship over their shared affinity for shoplifting.

“Pen15” was produced by Awesomeness with Andy Samberg’s production shingle, set in the ’90s and portraying “middle school as it really happened.” In “Zac and Mia” season 2, which launched on Hulu in February, the couple are now forced to navigate their budding relationship out in the real world, unprotected and unsheltered by the walls of a hospital.

“Pen15” on Hulu

Another Awesomeness show on Hulu is thriller “Light As a Feather.” Hulu has brought it back for a second season, which will debut this summer with the return of Liana Liberato and Brianne Tju along with co-star Haley Ramm. The second season picks up following the events of season one, when an innocent game of “light as a feather, stiff as a board” goes wrong and the five teen girls who played start dying off in the exact way that was predicted, forcing the survivors to figure out why they’re being targeted — and whether the evil force hunting them down is one of their own.

“We want to be the dominant studio for [the Gen Z] audience across platforms,” Glashow said.

Awesomeness is looking to continue to grow its film and TV slate, in addition to expanding its popular short-form programs on YouTube, which include “My Dream Quinceanera” and “Malibu Surf.”

Zimmerman noted that Awesomeness also has been building relationships with “the most important talent for this generation,” like Noah Centineo. They’re “people we’ve always had relationships with who are having this exponential growth,” she said.

“Part of why we’re so passionate about Gen Z is the power they have to turn the lights on for a new platform,” Zimmerman said. “Gen Z is why I know what Snapchat is.”

Based in New York, Glashow most recently served as chief strategy and distribution officer at Awesomeness. Before joining the company in 2016, she held senior roles in content distribution and strategy at Discovery and Comcast.

Before being promoted co-chief of Awesomeness, L.A.-based Zimmerman was head of its TV studio and prior to that led scripted programming development and production at Warner Horizon and Tollin/Robbins Productions.

Pictured above: Awesomeness co-heads Rebecca Glashow (l.) and Shelley Zimmerman

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