EXCLUSIVE: In the latest in a series of moves to diversify their venerable production company, Imagine Entertainment chairmen Brian Grazer and Ron Howard have acquired a majority state in Marginal Mediaworks and will work with founder/CEO Sanjay Sharma to generate controlled-budget films, premium short- and long-form series, podcasts and other forms of IP incubation, with an emphasis on horror, thriller, comedy, science fiction, and aspirational narratives from marginalized voices.
“We are excited by new models that can create paradigm changes in the industry, and allow fresh perspectives to emerge,” Grazer and Howard said. “We also believe there are tremendous opportunities for cross-pollination between Imagine and our many other new initiatives.”
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Sharma founded Marginal in 2017 premised on the convergence of two forces — the impact of technology on the filmed entertainment business, and the impact of demographics and culture. Imagine, which once led the charge on the short-form web content business Pop.com only to find the digital delivery systems and audiences weren’t ready for it, takes its place alongside the studios trying to figure out the opportunities that a more mature digital world, globally connected theatrical marketplace offers, along with niche audience-targeted premium content.
Sharma started as an intellectual property, technology transactions and entertainment lawyer before shifting careers to tech startups. He helped start and lead Machinima, the first YouTube MCN, which was acquired by Warner Bros in 2016, and most recently was CEO of the digital branded hip-hop urban content generator All Def.
“We’ve seen sort of technology slowly and now rapidly begin to have a material impact on the film business and that brought me back into it,” he told Deadline. “You have the studios consolidating, making fewer and fewer movies a year, but bigger and bigger movies. That’s at one end of the spectrum and then at the other is tremendous opportunity with all of the new entrants into the business, principally tech and telcos looking for content. There are the obvious suspects, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu but you also have DirecTV and AT&T and even T-Mobile which acquired Layer3, the Set Top Box company. There are many people in the US and around the world seeing the value of premium filmed entertainment. The first wave of impact came through digital media, principally through social and short form like YouTube and Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat, which are still incredibly relevant. I got increasingly interested in this sort of second wave of impact, particularly around the opportunity for premium filmed entertainment, storytelling at the highest level from professional writer/directors. This is an opportunity.
“Beyond the changes in the business landscape principally due to technology, there is the growing impact of demographics and culture,” he said. “We’re at this tipping point where the world is increasingly globally connected and when you think about it, 60 percent of the world is Asian and that includes the two biggest film markets behind the US, China and India. Even when you look at America in particular, among America youth we’re already living in a minority/majority world and many believe 2043 or 2045 will be the year the that the current majority becomes the minority. If you look around at youth culture, the so-called Gen Z Plus generation, that change has already happened. On a percentage basis, the African American population, the Latino population, the gay and lesbian population, the immigrant population, and the Asian American populations, those groups combined are 55 percent of the American population. It’s already a majority.”
Grazer and Sharma said this venture will cultivate that targeted audience. “We saw this voracious appetite and interest for fresh perspectives and new stories, and this huge pipeline of amazing talent that are sort of yearning to tell these stories to an audience that is reflective of it and that demands it,” Grazer said.
Marginal will work nimbly with controlled film budgets to create traditional and nontraditional fare in new media formats as well as traditional distributors, with content created by entrepreneurial minded creative and emerging talent. Marginal has half a dozen film projects in the works, as well as several podcasts, a graphic novel, and a video game IP.
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