SXSW

Q&A: Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore Talks Bravo Development Deal

Why Partners Are Co-Producing Four Short-Form Digital Shows

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Mashable founder and CEO Pete Cashmore
Mashable founder and CEO Pete Cashmore Credit: Mashable

At a panel discussion Monday, Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore announced to the crowd at the South By Southwest Interactive News conference that his company is linking with Bravo to create four short-form original video series. The shows will be six episodes long, and will be distributed digitally across platforms belonging to the companies (as well as social media channels, at times).

Bravo and Mashable Studios, the digital media company's digital video production arm, previously worked together on the digital show "Real Thoughts with Real Housewives," which debuted last year.

Lisa Hsia, exec VP-digital, Bravo and Oxygen Media, told Ad Age in a statement that her team was excited to collaborate with Mashable. "Their incredible scale, coupled with a highly-engaged following that loves to share, makes it a perfect fit for Bravo in creating new and compelling video content that's
sure to resonate with both of our audiences."

After Mr. Cashmore's on-stage discussion, and after greeting and conversing with a long line of SXSW attendees who wanted to meet him, he sat with Ad Age to talk more about what this development deal means for the company he founded in 2005 at the age of 19.

The conversation has been condensed and lightly edited.

Advertising Age: What are these digital series going to be like? Will there be a theme that will be constant across the entire slate of programming?

Pete Cashmore: We're doing some stuff inspired by [Bravo's] IP, some stuff that's completely original. Ideas coming from both us and them. But in terms of an overarching theme ... I mean, it will be in the voice that you would expect from Bravo. So Mashable Studios is run by a guy called Eric Korsh. He ran the studio that produced "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy." That ran for about eight years on Bravo and a bunch of other networks. So he very much understands the Bravo voice, and how to tell stories that will resonate with their audience. He did reality TV programming, he did music videos .... So it will be in the voice of Bravo, but it won't specifically have ... specific themes. But it will mainly be the thematic elements that you'd expect. Things like authentic scenarios, vs. heavily scripted series. I mean, there may be scripted. It's very open -- whatever comes to us.

Advertising Age: Was there a hole in the market, or an opportunity that you targeted for the taking?

Mr. Cashmore: I think it's less of a topical opportunity, and more of a process opportunity. Which is to say: The current process of television is very, very expensive. It is very, very risky. You create a pilot, it may not fly. We have a very de-risked way of making content online. We use [proprietary technology, Velocity] to find out what's going to be big on the web. We then produce a blog post. We then see if that works. If that works, we create a video pilot. If that goes viral too, we then serialize. And we build the audience as we go. And we have various ways: We also have a thing called Knowledge Graph ... so we can find audiences for shows as well. ... We have a lot of data that can help us de-risk stuff, find audiences, target audiences, and then take them up to a higher lever.

So it's more of a process-type relationship than a topical, "Hey, we think there's a huge gap for this." It's more, "Huh, you guys have an amazing brand, amazing shows, great reach. We have this new way of producing video shows. Let's continue the process that we've been kind of embarking on with the trial series, and do more and figure out kind of a new voice. And it may result in ideas and shows and concepts to move up to Bravo. Or it may evolve into concepts that are pure digital shows."

Advertising Age: So this could be sort of a tryout for a show that could ultimately appear on a linear broadcast?

Mr. Cashmore: That would be Bravo's call. So you should speak to them. We're currently contracted to do four digital series. This is a development deal. They're to live on our sites and their sites. We, as a company, think we want to work with TV networks and see how our process applies to them. But there's not, in this current deal ... there's not like a mandate to "this stuff that has to go to TV." But I think all parties are interested in seeing 'How does this new way of making video content work? And how does it apply to their business?'

Advertising Age: Is this something that you've wanted to do for a while?

Mr. Cashmore: Absolutely. Ever since we started Mashable Studios in June. I mean, the first phase was developing a voice, developing series, figuring out the process -- How would we use our data platforms and what we already had in text to produce video and studio shows? And then the next phase was obviously, "Huh, I think there's something really interesting happening where we can produce video much more efficiently, much more effectively, and develop audiences, and we should start partnering with TV." So yeah, we've been looking to do it for some time. But we really wanted to nail down our process first.

Advertising Age: How significant does this deal feel to you in terms of Mashable's overall history and story?

Mr. Cashmore: I think it's very significant because it marks, I think, the start of the future of television era, whatever that looks like. Mashable Studios was the first step, where we said, "You know, video is really meaningful for us. We have a large number of people producing video at Mashable now." It's a big, big part of our business ... So that was the first step, and now this step is, "Ok, let's start interacting with television networks and understanding their process. And understanding how our process can work for them." So that's why it's significant. We reinvented newspapers and magazines in the first year of Mashable --- [Mashable] was this generation's consumer-tech magazine. And now we're looking at, "Ok, how do we be a TV channel?"

Advertising Age: A lot of digital media companies seem to have some interest in creating web series that could ultimately move to a bigger platform. Is there a tough competition right now between companies to see who can get the best web series deal, and potentially something that could move up from there?

Mr. Cashmore: I don't think we're struggling for deals. I mean, certainly this one came very organically. ... We think --- we would expect to do more such partnerships. Just as film studios can produce for many different distributors, we think we have a process that -- we're going to make shows that certainly make sense for the Bravo voice, but we're also going to have a lot of shows that would make sense for others. So, we think it's probably the kind of the first step, but it certainly won't be the only one we do, for sure. We certainly will have more.