Maker Studios, the Web video network owned by Walt Disney, will produce short-form shows about everything from ‘Star Wars’ fashion to games to help its new parent promote the next film in the space-adventure series.
Maker, the largest operator of channels on YouTube, has secured sponsors to help fund the shows, say people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because they are not authorised to speak publicly. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is scheduled to open in theatres in December, 2015.
The ‘Star Wars’ package underscores why Disney bought Maker for $500 million in May, 2014. The Maker series will help the Burbank, California-based company boost awareness for ‘Star Wars’ by employing online personalities already popular among viewers who were not born when the first film, A New Hope, opened in 1977.
Movie studios are increasingly using YouTube stars to help market their movies. Justine Ezarik, better known as iJustine, was one of several popular online personalities to make a video promoting the latest instalment of The Hunger Games, the blockbuster film series from Lions Gate Entertainment.
Maker also will produce short-form videos for characters and brands across Disney, including Marvel and Pixar, according to the people. The online studio has worked to extend Disney’s reach on Google’s YouTube.com by collaborating with channels such as ABC Family and ABC News.
Maker operates a network of more than 55,000 video channels, drawing more viewers than any other YouTube partner, according to ComScore. Its former shareholders, including Chief Executive Officer Ynon Kreiz, stand to receive a payout of as much as $450 million, if performance targets are met.
Disney will help Maker extend its brand into television. The online company produced a couple of specials for Disney TV channels in October that featured talent from Maker’s network.
Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4.05 billion, and announced plans to produce new movies based on ‘Star Wars’, which CEO Bob Iger called “one of the greatest family entertainment franchises of all time”.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Lucasfilm sustained the ‘Star Wars’ brand over the past four decades with books, movies, video games and toys that introduced characters to new audiences.
Disney put movie production into hyper-drive, hiring directors like Godzilla-filmmaker Gareth Edwards and J J Abrams to make new films.
Abrams, director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has tried to keep details of the new production from public view, a posture also taken by another Disney-owned brand, Marvel. Disney has strategically seeded photographs and teasers to the public, building anticipation with every new morsel.
Maker’s videos will be one part of a marketing programme leading up to the release of the movie, the seventh instalment of the series created by George Lucas.