Disney Enlists Maker to Create ‘Star Wars’ Series Online

Maker Studios, the Web video network owned by Walt Disney Co., 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, said people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is scheduled to open in theaters on Dec. 18, 2015.

The “Star Wars” package underscores why Disney bought Maker for $500 million in May. The Maker series will help the Burbank, California-based company boost awareness for “Star Wars” by employing online personalities already popular among viewers who weren’t 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 installment of “The Hunger Games,” the blockbuster film series from Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.

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 Inc.’s YouTube.com by collaborating with channels such as ABC Family and ABC News.

Potential Pay-Out

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 Ltd. 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 didn’t 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 program leading up to the release of “The Force Awakens,” the seventh installment of the series created by George Lucas.

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