EXCLUSIVE: As it continues to build out its mid- and long-form content capabilities, WarnerMedia sports brand Bleacher Report has hired former Epix executive Rachel Brill as SVP and GM of the recently created B/R Studio.
In the role, Brill will look to build a roster of projects targeting an estimated 200 million millennial and Gen Z fans of B/R. Her primary mission is to help the outfit establish a clear programming voice in a marketplace for sports-themed fare that has grown relatively crowded in recent years. Upstarts and established players alike, among them DAZN, Facebook, Showtime and HBO have stepped up their efforts to compete with ESPN in the unscripted sports space.
Subscription service B/R Live, which launched in March 2018, and the ad-supported Bleacher Report app, are in the process of gradually merging into a single entity. At the same time, WarnerMedia is also focused on developing HBO Max, which will hit the market next spring. That subscription offering will draw from a range of brands under the corporate tent, including Bleacher Report, and promises to add live sports to the mix by 2021. B/R Live launched with streaming rights to several sports properties, including soccer, golf and basketball.
Brill, who had been Head of Unscripted Original Programming for Epix, will be based in New York and report to B/R Chief Content Officer Sam Toles.
“Rachel brings exactly the right mix of an impressive track record developing ultra-premium content coupled with a digital first storytelling sensibility that aligns perfectly with our ambitions,” Toles said in the official announcement.
Bleacher Report CEO Howard Mittman called Brill “an avid sports fan” who will “rapidly focus our newly formed B/R Studio team towards developing and producing a wide range of original content.”
Over the past few months, B/R Studio has come into focus, assembling a team comprised of existing staffers and some select new hires aiming to deliver premium video and audio work with a journalistic pedigree. Battlestations, a look at the videogame pursuits of top athletes, is the first B/R Studio video project.
Bleacher Report says it drives more than 1.25 billion video views and interactions, more than any other publisher in the sports category. The B/R app has been downloaded by more than 20 million users. Properties in the portfolio include Ditch the Playbook with Adam Lefkoe, Untold Stories with Master Tesfatsion, Your Fantasy Fire Drill, House of Highlights Live, and animated series like Gridiron Heights.
In addition to feeding B/R’s channels, the game plan will be to cross-pollinate with other divisions of WarnerMedia, in keeping with the company’s effort to break down silos between divisions. AT&T paid $81 billion to acquire Time Warner in a deal that closed in June 2018 and this year has undertaken a massive restructuring of the company. The launch of HBO Max is seen as a major corporate statement about the importance of direct-to-consumer streaming.
“In a distribution landscape that is evolving faster than players demanding trades after one loss, the key is original IP, talent and a point of view,” Brill said. “Through the storytelling prowess of the B/R verticals, we will unlock the viral relevance of the B/R voice for distinct audiences, in long, mid and short-form narrative and formats, across all media.”
At Epix, Brill oversaw series including The Contender; Wanda Sykes’ comedy series Unprotected Sets; film critic Elvis Mitchell’s Elvis Goes There; and the upcoming podcast adaptation Slow Burn. In a previous career chapter, she co-created and executive produced Ritual, a docuseries for Amazon Prime Original’s NFL Thursday Night Football as well as Tyler, the Creator’s Nuts + Bolts on Viceland.
Brill started her career at Zoo Productions, working on shows like Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? and Chelsea Handler’s Girls Behaving Badly. She has developed unscripted projects at TNT and TBS with producers Dick Wolf, Jerry Bruckheimer, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Dwayne Johnson. Brill also headed the digital studio for Lloyd Braun’s Whalerock Industries, assembling both originals and live series for SiriusXM, Disney, CMT/TV Land and the Kardashians and Jenner families.