Former Maker Studios sales executive Jonny Blitstein (pictured left) has joined digital-first development and production shop Astronauts Wanted in the newly-created role of Vice President, Business Development Branded Entertainment. Blitstein will report to founders Judy McGrath and Chief Creative Strategist Nick Shore and working alongside Chris Murphy, SVP Branded Entertainment.
“Putting the branded entertainment powerhouse team in place speaks to our commitment to innovate and head the pack in this medium of branded storytelling,” said McGrath.
Among its branded projects, Astronauts Wanted counts #HeyUSA, at fan-driven travel series starring famed YouTubers Grace Helbig and Mamrie Hart, built in conjunction with Conde Nast and supported by Hilton. In a similar vein, Astronauts Wanted touts its work on teen reality series #SummerBreak with AT&T, The Chernin Group and Fullscreen as another branded-supported success given its three-season renewal.
“We are working on concepts with major brands that I am very much looking forward to exploring,” added McGrath also noting that Blitstein’s hire “demonstrates [Astronauts Wanted’s] desire to partner with the world’s leading and most forward-thinking brands.”
And given his 15 years in the industry, Blitstein is no stranger to marquee brands targeting the youth generation including Wendy’s, Walmart and Sprint.
According to McGrath, branded entertainment, while important for the business, is supplementary as it plans to expand in scripted programming as it originally set out to do.
And, Astronauts Wanted has been among the usual suspects receiving dollars from distributors including Verizon and YouTube Red. With an economic model that has yet to prove long-term return on spend (via renewals, etc), many digital-first creators are diversifying into brand-funded programming as a more stable line of revenue.
“Every media space, save the SVOD’s, has viewed branded content as an opportunity for story-telling, a way to understand and reach a passionate fan base that is as legitimate as any platform out there,” McGrath told VideoInk. “That said, the best marketers are innovating madly to ensure authenticity and the right spirit for this work. I look at it as a creative extension as much as a driver for overall business.”