LOS ANGELES — The Creative Artists Agency, one of the most powerful talent agencies in Hollywood, just launched a new “start-up studio” to develop apps for its celebrity clients, initially focused on audio for the connected-speaker market.
The agency’s Creative Labs has two companies in its portfolio already: Ground Control, which offers daily news updates from former vice president Joe Biden on Amazon’s Alexa-activated speakers and Google Home and a trivia game from baseball great Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants. And it has Belletrist, an arts community aimed at millennial women that was co-founded by actress Emma Roberts. Labs is working with comedian Mike Epps on a new audio game that will be introduced by the end of the year.
CAA, which represents such superstars as Tom Hanks and George Clooney, is also a longtime co-founder of tech firms, including the comedy site Funny or Die, and Moonshark, which created apps for celebrities like Hanks and Jennifer Lopez. It has also invested in start-ups like Patreon, the app for fans to offer funding, and the Medium blog posting platform.
Instead of helping to found companies piecemeal, “we realized it would be easier to start companies and raise capital and also have available engineering and designer talent to build the companies,” says Michael Yanover, head of business development for CAA.
CAA has earmarked $12.5 million for the new company, raised from a variety of investors, including Boatrocker Ventures, Entertainment One and the Telegraph Media Group. The company which is headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, an area Yanover says is under-appreciated and brimming with available talent. The business chat app Slack as well as social media monitor HootSuite were both born in Vancouver.
Silicon Valley is a “war for talent, and the talent is fleeting,” Yanover says, and while his local community in L.A. has a good supply of engineering talent, the costs aren’t as “reasonable” as they are in Vancouver, he says.
“They speak the same language as us, are on the same time-zone, there are government incentives to be based in Canada, so it just seemed like a great place to be.”
Leonard Brody, a Canadian venture capitalist who serves as chairman of the new company, says the connected speaker market is a priority.
The market is “where apps were 9 years ago,” he says.
Amazon is banking on selling many more units of the Echo speaker, which now come in a variety of sizes, and Google recently expanded beyond the initial Home speaker to also offer a smaller, Mini version. Apple is releasing its first smart speaker in December, the HomePod.
With CAA’s array of celebrity talent looking to lend their voices to projects, Yanover believes he’s on a winning strategy.
“They all have their Echos at home, and are really intrigued,” Yanover says.
This week Amazon announced new monetization features for Alexa’s “skills,” offerings, making subscriptions to premium content, such as within the Jeopardy game app, available to subscribers of the Prime shipping/entertainment service. “This is an important sector for us to be in,” adds Brody.
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham