Brothers Evan and Gregg Spiridellis, founders of JibJab, were visiting New York yesterday to officially launch their new multi-platform children’s project StoryBots. I met them in the afternoon at Rue 57 near Central Park to learn more about their plans for this new venture.
JibJab has evolved constantly since it was founded in a Brooklyn garage in 1999. In the beginning, JibJab was known for its goofy online Flash videos like Founding Fathers. The company gained widespread notoriety in 2004 with its election-themed short This Land, and soon became known for its “Year in Review” animated shorts. In 2007, the company pursued a new business model: e-greeting cards with the innovative “Starring You” technology that allowed people to insert themselves into animated cards. Today, the company specializes primarily in e-greeting cards and has over 40 employees in Venice Beach, California.
Now, with StoryBots, JibJab is expanding in a bold new direction: children’s entertainment. It’s also their biggest push ever into creating original content. Their vision for StoryBots is to build a “Sesame Street for a connected generation.” Using a cast of colorful, simply designed characters that they call StoryBots, JibJab envisions building “hundreds of products in the coming years” that are designed from the ground-up for mobile and tablet devices. These will include apps, ebooks, games, and videos. Educational content and personaliziation will be a key component of many of these products.
StoryBots could pose a major challenge to old children’s media institutions like Disney and Nickelodeon. Instead of doing what other content producers have done in the past, which is to sell a show to a network, JibJab is redefining what children’s entertainment can be in the 21st century and attempting to fundamentally reshape the long-established distribution models of children’s entertainment. Their savviness with monetizing Web content over the past decade leads one to believe that they may actually be able to pull off their ambitious goals.
The initial StoryBots launch includes five separate products:
StoryBots Starring You StoryBooks: A free iPad app that enables parents to create personalized, animated eBooks that include their child’s name and face in the stories.
StoryBots Starring You Band: A free video series on the web that allows parents to insert their kids directly into music videos and jam out alongside the StoryBots.
The StoryBots ABC Jamboree: A collection of 26 one-minute, foot-tapping music videos designed to help kids recognize the sounds and shapes of the letters of the alphabet.
The StoryBots Activity Center: A place on StoryBots.com where parents can download and print over 100 free coloring, tracing, mazes and word finds to – ironically enough – help get their kids off of the computer and back to the kitchen table with crayons and pencils.
The StoryBots Beep & Boop iPhone app: Turns learning good behavior into a game kids love, bringing old-school reward chart systems into the 21st century. Parents give kids BEEPs for good behavior and BOOPs as reprimands. Parents can use the app to create goals and prizes to motivate and celebrate their children’s achievements.
Much of what the Spiridellis brothers have planned for StoryBots can’t be announced publicly yet, but I can say that their plans are impressive. The ABC Jamboree is an excellent example of what makes StoryBots such a unique endeavor.
JibJab is hiring talented animators from around the world to create content for StoryBots, and giving them freedom to animate the StoryBots characters in their own styles. The end result is animation that is not only educational, but also fun to watch for all ages. Just a few of the artists and studios involved with StoryBots so far include Alla Kinda (Spain), Rubber House (Australia), Animade (UK), Chris Garbutt, and Estudio Ronda (Argentina).
There’s also a StoryBots Tumblr with behind-the-scenes artwork from the various StoryBots projects being developed.