June 9, 2010 / 8:26 PM / 7 years ago

Mommy-funded TV takes aim at Barney

SAN FRANCISCO (Private Equity Week) - Sometimes, there’s no stopping a mother on a mission.

<p>The Barney ballon waves to the crowds along Broadway during the 75th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, November 22, 2001 in New York City. REUTERS/Jeff Christensen</p>

Abbie Schiller, CEO of The Mother Co. (www.themotherco.com/), a startup that provides children's entertainment, including a TV series, recently raised $450,000 from investors, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The funding comes almost exclusively from individual investors in and around Los Angeles, where the company is based. All but one of the company’s more than 20 investors is a mother.

“I started out talking to professional investors and venture capitalists and they were all interested and saw the opportunity,” Schiller said. “But the people I had conversations with in Silicon Valley are so focused on new technologies that when I said I wanted to produce a DVD, their eyes glazed over.”

Schiller, who’s currently five months pregnant, pressed on. She sold everything she could, including her home, and moved into her parents’ house. Schiller, a 38-year-old public relations executive, then shared her vision and an early script with Samantha Kurtzman-Counter, a director and producer, who had worked on programs for ABC, NBC, Vh1, MTV and the Disney Channel.

Kurtzman-Counter now serves as executive vice president of production of The Mother Co., while Schiller is listed as president.

Schiller also tapped her local network for cash.

“I went from mom to mom at the grocery store to the floor of my daughter’s dance class,” Schiller said. “It was literally financed by mothers and continues to be a company for mothers.”

It may be money well invested. The market for children’s content is worth more than $21 billion, according to Dade Hayes, author of “Anytime Playdate: Inside the Preschool Entertainment Boom, or, How Television Became My Baby’s Best Friend”. Children between the ages of two and five spend an average of 32 hours a week in front of the TV set, according to data from Neilson.

DVDs play a large role in overall consumption, especially with the advent of portable DVD players and automobiles that come equipped with players.

BARNEY BACKLASH

Schiller is betting her startup will be able to deliver a television show that teaches children about emotions without overwhelming them with fast cuts, loud noises and neon colors. She said despite all the content that large companies, such as Disney, produce, not all of what goes onto the screen is programing that parents necessarily want their kids to watch.

“Most shows don’t seem to fit within my living room,” said Schiller, who has a 6-year-old daughter. “As wonderful as the messages are from a purple dinosaur, the message felt forced.”

Schiller said she couldn’t find stylish and well-designed children’s entertainment, so she decided to produce it herself.

“My child will gladly watch slower, gentler media if it speaks to her. There’s nothing like Mr. Rogers out there today,” Schiller said.

The first television series The Mother Co. is producing is called “Ruby’s Studio” and stars actress Kelsey Collins as Ruby. Schiller said the show covers emotions and other topics and will help children express what they feel. She described the main character as a “mix between Mary Poppins and Amelie, with a little Mr. Roger’s thrown in to boot.”

Not only has Schiller’s project attracted seed funding from mothers, but other mothers are also offering their skills. For example, the costume designer for “Ruby’s Studio” works on the TV show “Glee” and happens to be pregnant.

“We get people we could never afford to come on and do this for us,” Schiller said. “It’s like the mother mafia.”

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