For more than 17 years, Common Sense Media has provided advice to parents trying to figure out whether movies, TV shows, digital media and apps are age-appropriate for their kids.
Now the not-for-profit organization plans to make money from its own original media targeted at children: It’s launching Common Sense Networks, its first for-profit venture, and has tapped former Sony Pictures Television exec and Crackle GM Eric Berger to run the newly formed L.A.-based startup.
The for-profit subsidiary will create and distribute “quality media experiences for kids,” said Common Sense Media founder/CEO Jim Steyer. “We think, based our unique brand and massive popularity among parents, kids and educators, that there’s an opportunity to potentially create and distribute new media and experiences in this space.”
Common Sense Media has raised over $10 million from angel investors in the financial industry to launch new for-profit businesses, Steyer said. (He declined to identify the backers.)
Steyer insisted that the formation of the for-profit kids’ media division doesn’t present any conflicts with Common Sense Media’s core goals. “We have spoken to people in all aspects of our work to make sure it’s consistent with our mission,” he said. In addition, Steyer said, Common Sense Networks has been certified as a B Corporation, a designation for companies that “balance profit and purpose” by meeting standards for social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability.
As for whether Common Sense Media will review and rate the content produced by its commercial arm, Steyer said that has not been determined. “We have yet to create any content or distribute it,” he said.
Berger, as CEO of Common Sense Networks, is tasked with building the for-profit entity from its infancy stage into a “trusted and recognized international media property for families,” according to Steyer.
“As a parent, I’ve been a user of Common Sense Media for years,” said Berger, whose kids are now 18 and 20. “As someone in the business, I’ve seen this change in rapid consumption of digital media for kids. I was drawn to their mission to create better entertainment for kids and families.”
He added, “It’s rare to have this opportunity to build something new and mission-based… We have an opportunity to build something that is really reflective of Gen Alpha around what is happening now.” Common Sense Networks will create a range of services and content, including streaming video, podcasts, and social media content, “with the goal of meeting kids where they are,” said Berger.
Common Sense Networks will likely have a different consumer-facing brand associated with it in the future. The for-profit arm will be based out of a new L.A. office, operating separately from the San Francisco-based parent organization. Berger is looking for office space in Los Angeles and is in the process of hiring a senior management team and other staff.
Berger started talking with Steyer about three months ago about the new venture, after Common Sense conducted an executive search for the CEO position. The organization shortlisted a dozen candidates before ultimately selecting Berger.
“Eric is a very significant player in the entertainment industry, and we wanted to get a very experienced, seasoned executive to lead this initiative,” said Steyer. “We thought he was an excellent business operator… and he really cares about kids and family.”
Berger most recently was chief digital officer and head of direct-to-consumer at Sony Pictures Television, where he launched and managed Sony Crackle, an ad-supported streaming network.
Crackle, which is now run as a joint venture between SPT and Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, had created original programming including Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” as well as a slate of movies and premium series. At SPT, Berger’s portfolio also included the anime-subscription service Funimation and the Sony Pictures Television Game Studio, as well as linear TV networks Sony Movie Channel, Cine Sony and getTV. Prior to joining Sony in 2006, Berger led strategic planning initiatives at Time Warner Inc.
Common Sense Media reported $25.5 million in total revenue including $11.2 million in service revenue from licensing deals for calendar year 2018, according to its most recent 501(c)3 tax filing. The organization has about 130 employees.
Steyer founded Common Sense Media in 2003. Today, according to the organization, Common Sense ratings and reviews reach more than 100 million households and its digital citizenship curriculum is taught by 1 million teachers in the U.S. and other countries.