Add JLo to the list of celebrities dipping their carefully manicured toes into the digital waters, courtesy of a CAA-incubated startup named Moonshark that’s releasing the first of a batch of celebrity-co-created games into the App Store today.
DancePad is like the arcade game Dance, Dance Revolution, but for the iPad, and you play it with your fingers, not your body (see video below). Lopez is collaborating on developing routines and music for the game.
As such, DancePad is not some cynical play to rake in the dough by slapping a big-time celebrity’s name on some half-baked digital doodad. Rather, it’s yet one more signifier of the tighter collaboration between Hollywood and the tech world as digital products become increasingly entertainment focused.
Moonshark is the latest startup incubated out of CAA, the uber-talent agency better known for representing mega-artists and sports stars like Sandra Bullock, Justin Timberlake, and David Beckham.
The idea for the Moonshark emerged out of discussions between CAA and Qualcomm about the possibility of creating a company to produce apps and games.
"CAA and Qualcomm recognized the rapid growth of mobile entertainment as an opportunity for Hollywood talent to contribute their creativity to this new medium," Moonshark CEO Matt Kozlov tells Fast Company. "But there was no company they could point to that understood both the complexities of the quickly evolving mobile game industry, as well as the complexities of Hollywood."
The two decided to create Moonshark at the beginning of 2011 and tapped Kozlov, the former head of Sony Music Entertainment New Products and Services, to run the shop. Its mission: to produce a catalog of mobile apps that tap into Hollywood’s creative talent to produce compelling ideas, characters, and narratives.
In some cases, as with an upcoming martial arts app being co-created by Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo, the celebrity partner participates from the jump, helping to build the title from the beginning.
In other cases, as with Lopez, Moonshark finds the game first (DancePad was originally the thesis project of a group of USC students), and then identifies a celebrity who can help flesh it out.
"She’s helping us grow this into the maximum opportunity we think it can be," says Kozlov. (Also on board is the DJ collective The Bangerz, who produce music for America’s Best Dance Crew winners the Jabbawockeez.)
Moonshark plans to produce about a half dozen titles before the end of the year, with more in the pipeline for 2013. In addition to the John Woo title is a project with YouTube sensation Philip DeFranco that Kozlov calls "a comedic application in the photography space." (Yeah, we don’t know what that is either, but we’re eager to see what it is.)
CAA’s sideways move into a space traditionally occupied by tech companies began a few years ago with the advent of two key shifts. Mobile devices were rapidly becoming one of the primary screens for consuming entertainment, and video games were moving out of the teenage-boy-basement and onto the phones (and eventually tablets) of everyone from 8-year-old girls to soccer moms. Apps and games suddenly presented a new medium for actors, writers, directors, singers, musicians, and even sports stars to exercise their creative juices and get their ideas out into the world.
"You can now reach a very broad demographic base with your idea," Kozlov says. "Compared to the budgets and timelines required for traditional entertainment (like film and television), it is much easier to produce and distribute a mobile game."
In 2007, CAA teamed up with pre-eminent Silicon Valley venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, as well as funnyman Will Ferrell and screenwriter Adam McKay, to birth the comedy video site Funny or Die. More recently, it’s incubated WePlay.com, an online youth sports community cofounded by CAA clients LeBron James, Derek Jeter, and Peyton Manning.
At Moonshark, Kozlov sees the possibility for a celebrity to create a franchise in as little as six months—maybe even less.
"You can have an idea for a character or a world, and you can work with us to make it compelling and addictive, and find a really great game mechanic," Kozlov says. "And you can get it into the hands of hundreds of millions of people in a fraction of the time it would take to develop a film or a television show."
Kozlov says this also signifies a larger shift for the Hollywood set. In the past, they might only have thought of TV or film as an outlet for their talents. Now they should add apps and games.
"If they’re looking for interesting and creative ways to reach people," he says, "mobile needs to be on their minds."