Digital Artists: Turning Celebs Into Brands

digital artists ronaldo

Some digital studios launch big and fall hard. But Digital Artists, which was created two years ago, has been operating in stealth mode until very recently and has avoided the pitfalls experienced by companies like 60 Frames. They’ve done so by seeking new ways to create content in the digital space, with a focus on making online personalities into monetizable brands and partnering with entities outside the digital space for online experiences.

Last week, I met with Digital Artists’ CEO Adam Shaw and CCO Bill Kendall, who co-founded the company, in their Venice, Calif. office to discuss the company’s development since its beginnings as a CAA-incubated company.

Its origin story is relatively simple: CAA was approached by the venture capital firm Deep Fork Capital about the possibility of a digital studio, and an agent there recommended Shaw and Kendall to run it. Incubating, according to them, has meant getting some administrative support and contacts; Digital Artists isn’t limited in what agencies it does business with. “CAA was smart about watching the first round happen and not diving in, allowing us to develop a little more,” Shaw said.

So far, Digital Artists’ projects have included partnering with Ryan Higa and Wong Fu Productions to help distribute the original short Agents of Secrets Stuff. There are multiple followup projects in the works for ASS, including two mobile apps and a iTunes and DVD release.

Shaw credited the Agents of Secret Stuff deal to former president of Walt Disney Studios’ Oren Aviv, who recently joined the company’s board of directors as an advisor and was very vocal about working with Higa.

“Oren has been instrumental in helping us articulate our content strategy, focused on basically partnering with best-in-class talent — both household names and emerging talent — in content verticals that we think will really sing on the web,” Kendall said. Those verticals currently include sports, comedy and sci-fi and fantasy.

One of the company’s focuses is on creating digital brands out of personalities, as seen with their work building the social media presence of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo. While Digital Artists initially capitalized on the World Cup to build Ronaldo’s presence online this summer (with statistics including a jump from three million Facebook fans to 17 million), his following hasn’t dropped off since the conclusion of the tournament.

Not only is Digital Artists planning to launch two mobile apps for that fan base, but there are two different digital series featuring Ronaldo in development for 2011 — creating content around the brand, essentially.

Those personalities can also be partnered with brands for additional monetization — essentially, integrating the brand not into a piece of storytelling, but a personality’s life — though both Shaw and Kendall were quick to say it wouldn’t work if the brand integration wasn’t “organic.”

Shaw estimated the company would sign four or five new clients and release 15 to 20 apps and social games in 2011 between all of Digital Artists’ partners. Digital Artists’ upcoming projects currently include digital documentaries from Morgan Spurlock, as well as a four-day series to go live from the Sundance Film Festival in partnership with independent producer Christine Vachon’s Killer Digital, which will bring together YouTube players with the independent film world.

The opportunity they see is in combining two categories of talent — the Cristiano Ronaldos and Ryan Higas — and creating content that can be cross-promoted to both audiences across multiple platforms.

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