In 1993, teacher and motivational speaker Jack Canfield and co-author Mark Victor Hansen published a book compiling self-help stories. Chicken Soup for the Soul exploded from a best-selling book series into a multichannel media company over the last quarter century that keeps evolving to offer brands more ways of telling stories in an era where brand storytelling has become paramount.
While no longer owned by the founders (Canfield and Hansen sold the company to its current owners in 2008), Chicken Soup for the Soul has become an empire. Extending its name to branded products (including a pet food line) has generated over $2 billion in sales worldwide for the company. In addition to producing many products in-house, CSS licenses its brand to products in line with its primary goal: “to share happiness, inspiration and hope through everything we do.”
This year Chicken Soup for the Soul is celebrating its 25th anniversary. From publishing to consumer goods, it has also evolved into a media company (based in Connecticut) called Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment. Last year, it launched an IPO on Nasdaq, trading under the stock ticker CSSE.
As a producer, it has focused on creating long- and short-form programming for the TV and online video market with a mission to create “positive and uplifting content designed to elevate the human spirit and bring out the best in viewers.” CSSE works with sponsor brands to develop video content and programming in line with its do-good-and-feel-good mission.
Adding to its roster of distribution channels, in 2016, it shored up its online reach by acquiring a majority stake in A Plus, Ashton Kutcher’s “positive journalism” website founded two years earlier, in which the actor remains a shareholder and chairman.
In November of last year the company acquired Screen Media Ventures, which has one of largest libraries of TV and film content in the world, and it also owns Popcornflix, an ad-supported, online-video service with five popular networks, more than 15 million active users and ad requests exceeding 85 percent.
As Chicken Soup for the Soul continues to expand in the online content delivery space, the company says it’s aggressively growing its business through a combination of organic growth, licensing and distribution arrangements, acquisitions and strategic relationships.
“We’d say we’re unique in this space because we’re Chicken Soup for the Soul,” Amanda Edwards, chief of staff for Chicken Soup for the Soul, told brandchannel. “We’re trusted storytellers.”
She discussed the company’s growth as a player in the branded entertainment and media market in a Q&A:
What’s your pitch to brands looking at branded video storytelling?
Facebook and Google algorithms are changing constantly and ad blockers make it difficult for brands to get messages out, but as a storyteller we can organically and authentically integrate video content. You’re going to click on video content not because of an ad but because you will find a positive, feel-good or inspirational story with us, and with the A Plus brand of positive journalism.
How big is the demand for this type of programming, and how do you work with brands?
We’ve got dozens of things in development. We find sponsors and put their messaging and goals into video content in a way that makes it non-invasive for the consumer. One good example is Vacation Rental Potential, where we teamed up with HomeAway (as the sponsor) to come up with a series for A&E that tells stories of people who want to make memories in a vacation home, but do it in a financially feasible way.
— ChickenSoup4theSoul (@ChickenSoupSoul) May 9, 2018
We also developed the Chicken Soup for the Soul Hidden Heroes series with the Boniuk Foundation that now is in its third season on the CW. It tells stories about ordinary people in communities making a difference here or halfway around the world in Africa. In the third season, the Bissell vacuum-cleaner brand is integrated into some of the segments as the company’s pet foundation tries to find a home for every pet in a shelter.
Who are your competitors? Amazon and Netflix?
We don’t consider ourselves competing with them. Amazon, Netflix and Disney are top-tier networks. We’re competing in the space below them. Showtime, HBO and Starz were big (premium cable) networks but there was still a need for lifestyle content, so Discovery and National Geographic and A&E were created (as cable TV networks with hours of programming slots to fill). Think about Chicken Soup for the Soul in that lower tier—still a multi-billion dollar market, and fulfilling that need.
Every brand seems to be using video to tell stories. What does CSSE offer as a partner for brand storytelling?
We have an ability through our ecosystem to distribute videos and video content through multiple platforms. We can put a TV series on virtually every cable network including A&E, TLC, Discovery Life and Discovery Family and so on. We also have our own over-the-top platform to distribute our own series and movies in Popcornflix. You can download the app and watch TV series and movies for free with just a couple of ads.
And, of course, there’s social media. What’s your reach on social?
Yes, we distribute our content through social media online. We have an incredible reach of millions and millions of content users each month.